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Category Archives: Modern Classics

Chernobyl Prayer – Svetlana Alexievich

chernobylprayerThere is no blurb for this one, partly because this copy didn’t come with one – just excerpts from newspaper reviews – and partly because it needs no blurb.  The book speaks for itself and with Alexievich’s Nobel Prize in Literature award, it means it will thankfully never be forgotten.

After a short historical background on the explosion of reactor no. 4 (whose radioactive particles reached as far as China and Africa), the reader is introduced to A lone human voice. This  truly shocking and saddening account sets the scene for this outstanding and powerful chronicle of eyewitness recollections  from those that were involved with the Chernobyl catastrophe.

Often forgotten in the face of overwhelming statistics are the real human lives who have suffered, those forgotten get a voice here.  The cost is not just in lives lost but dreams and hopes shattered, health ruined and families torn apart.  This book focuses on the Belarusians who bore the brunt of the disaster and of those who helped try to contain it and the risks they took.

The beauty of this series of monologues is that Alexievich didn’t ask questions, instead she did the one thing that the people had been wanting for years, she listened. Apart from an essay of her own the author merely adds only the briefest additions to the text such as ‘he looks pensive’, ‘she cries’ and so on.

This allows the people to talk about whatever they need to and follow the direction of their thoughts and there is a surprising amount of philosophical views that come out.  Especially as many still don’t accept the subtle devastation that hit their lands and destroyed them,  who were then shunned by an uneducated public.  What shines through is that they loved their land and animals, most of those living there knew little else and the passion for their lost place is ever present.
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Posted by on 13/02/2017 in History, Modern Classics, Politics

 

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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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A Dance to the Music of Time: Spring

SpringTimeMelancholyAnthony 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.

These first three novels in the sequence follow Nicholas Jenkins, Kenneth Widmerpool and others, as they negotiate the intellectual, cultural and social hurdles which stand between them and the ‘Acceptance World’.

This first omnibus contains the books A Question of Upbringing, A Buyer’s Market, and The Acceptance World; and is a thoroughly captivating start to a series that promises to yield so much in the way of pleasurable reading.

Straight away it grabbed me, with its meditations on life which, those of which only become evident as one reminisces of times past.  This is where the reader’s journey begins, with the narrator Nicholas Jenkins recalling thoughts of times long ago;  his coming of age in which he is almost a passive character in all matters.

As we are led through this life with the aid of rich writing, characters frequently disappear and reappear in unexpected combinations and when least expected.  This continual turnover keeps the books fresh and by the end I appreciated so many characters due to Powell’s perfect observances on the idiosyncracies of his fellow humans.

The central idea of the series is that life is a cycle of stages played out through a web of interconnections where people and places come together and split apart in a dance through life which only becomes clear as we progress further through this ceremony. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 24/10/2016 in Fiction, Modern Classics

 

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What to Read Next? The Eternal Question

BOOKS!!!

Poorly taken photo of a couple of my bookshelves.

I knew that eventually this day would come but it was always over the horizon and never a real worry, yet now that the day has finally arrived and I’ve reached total paralysis on choosing a book.  Now to delegate the hard work to you thoughtful and knowledgable people, your suggestions from this fine mass of literature for my next read will be much appreciated.  To make it more interesting, I will select an entry at random and the writer of said comment will get the grand old prize of a pleased nod from moi AND a sense of enormous well-being for your efforts.

  • Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell
  • Darkness at Noon – Arthur Koestler
  • The Bridge over the Drina – Ivo Andrić
  • 11.22.63 – Stephen King
  • The Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut
  • Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
  • Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages – R.W. Southern
  • Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens
  • Poor Folk – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • The Fortunes of the Rougons – Émile Zola
  • The Crystal World – J. G. Ballard
  • The Luzhin Defence – Vladimir Nabakov
  •  How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the F.A. Cup – J. L. Carr
  • The Gravedigger – Peter Grandbois
  • The Jewel in the Crown – Paul Scott
  • The Coup – John Updike
  • Maps for Lost Lovers – Nadeem Aslam
  • Literature and Evil – George Bataille

 

 

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Lost Horizon – James Hilton

ShatnerFightFollowing a plane crash, the British consul Conway, his deputy, a missionary and an American financier find themselves in the mysterious snow-capped mountains somewhere in Tibet.  Instructed by the mortally wounded pilot to find the lamasery of Shangri-La, they are both confused and delighted to be greeted with gracious hospitality there, but find themselves virtually imprisoned in the mystical and beautiful place. 

With its luxurious amenities, a vast library and many antique treasures, what is the dark secret at the heart of the apparent utopia of Shangri-La?

You would think I chose to read this book due to the good things people have said about it, you’d be wrong though.   I picked Lost Horizon up for an altogether more tenuous reason, that being that Shangri-La is mentioned in passing Star Trek V, that being the film that William Shatner co-wrote, directed and starred in, in which he has a fight with ‘God’.  I just wanted to mention that in my review and there really is no better excuse to read a book in my opinion.

Very much a book of its time, there is a strong sense of entitlement in the British imperialism and an on the edge of the empire mentality with all its casual racism, not to mention sexism and misogyny.  The group of character also encompasses the usual players of these sorts of books, the brash American, the Unflappable Brit, the prim lady on a mission (being a missionary and all) and the annoying one you just want to slap.

As a group, it is a frictious mix of polar opposites who soon clash over their situation and how best to proceed that gives the book its tension, of which admittedly there isn’t a lot.  There is an uneven amount of character development going on which is a shame but what we do get is enough of a vehicle to help drive the plot along and allows the reader to explore the choices the characters make based on their experiences and outlook on life.  There is plenty of scope also to put ourselves into their situation and muse on what we would do in such a hypothetical situation. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 15/01/2016 in Fiction, Modern Classics

 

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The Summer Book – Tove Jansson

Island BookThe Summer Book is a fresh, vivid and magical novel about seemingly endless summers of discovery. An elderly artist and her six-year-old granddaughter while away the summer together, on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland, their solitude disturbed only by migrating birds, sudden storms and an occasional passing boat. Gradually, the two learn to adjust to each other’s fears, foibles and yearnings for independence, and a fierce yet understated love emerges – one that engulfs not only the summer inhabitants, but the very island itself. Tove Jansson writes with a special toughness, and with a quiet, dry sense of humour, about a small girl and her grandmother, who as kindred spirits share the long days together.

A while back I went on a bit of a Scandinavian literature binge and with summer finally here, this naturally seemed like the perfect book to read.  The blurb is extremely appealing and I looked forward to a sedate wallow in the lives of these characters.

Told in a series of short vignettes, each one gives us little flashes of island life, I particularly enjoyed the disjointed feeling of being set down at random times to experience the adventures of the duo as they go about quietly and peacefully puzzling out the mysteries of life.  There is a sagacity that charmingly shifts betwixt the two, which coupled with a range of emotions and lessons learned makes one wonder which of the two really has the wisdom.

The relationship between the grandmother and Sophia feels realistic and the interplay between the two is interesting and knowing fractious in that comfortable family way.  My one annoyance with the book was Sophia herself, first off she came across as precocious but then her constant outbursts became annoying and then just plain grating.  I stopped short of disliking her though because of the young ‘uns natural curiosity and her manner of always being in a rush whilst she is in the midst of so much she will later wish she had savoured. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 13/06/2015 in Fiction, Modern Classics

 

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The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

Reviewing this and the previous post’s book Chess, has been an interesting exercise, both books have featured forced solitude in isolation and all of the psychological consequences that come with that.  As a reader in the individual pursuit of a good story, the effects of such books can only be compelling, as life can be examined from a different and altogether more challenging perspective.

Fogey and WatterSet in the Gulf Stream off the coast of Havana, Hemingway’s magnificent fable is the story of an old man, a young boy and a giant fish. It was The Old Man and the Sea that won for Hemingway the Nobel Prize for Literature. Here, in a perfectly crafted story, is a unique and timeless vision of the beauty and grief of man’s challenge to the elements in which he lives. Not a single word is superfluous in this widely admired masterpiece, which once and for all established his place as one of the giants of modern literature.

Hemingway has always been a hit and miss for me author for me but this was the book that encouraged me to pick up more of his works and appreciate them more than previous encounters.  I loved this story the first time around so having time to reread it and reflect on it, is one of life’s simple but rewarding pleasures.  Rereading is not something that I tend not to do very often.

At ninety-nine pages the book does that wonderful thing of placing the reader squarely in a remote and lonely setting, one that I suspect most readers will already be in, ignoring the world at large to read, a sort of Inception style reading process, so to speak.  Once there the book takes hold of the senses and gives the peruser a satisfying ordeal to remember.

As you would expect with a Hemingway book, his prose is precise and economical, being short on the conversation which have always failed to entice me in H’s other books, A Fare to Arms being a prime candidate.  The beauty of what is written here is that it is a simple tale, one told time and again throughout myth and history, it’s the never-ending human struggle against nature, what we wish to accomplish, usually complimented with a generous streak of stubbornness. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 26/05/2015 in Modern Classics

 

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