Old Habits…

After spending half a week face deep in a manuscript, a wander into Derbyshire was much called for yesterday.  Inevitably, it was hard to avoid the second hand bookshops, and after going in ‘just to look’, it would have been rude to leave without buying anything.  So I did.

In my defence – as if one were needed – a couple of fine book were unearthed.  Having read, and loved I, Claudius last year it was a pleasant surprise to bump into the sequel in almost mint condition, and as an added bonus with the same cover style as its companion book.

The Dostoyevsky was again close to mint condition and as it’s been a while since I had read anything by him (and the price was right) it made sense to not only indulge again but actually plan write a review for the blog when I’m done reading, as I seem to have missed reviewing all three books previously read by the author.

Now I just have to find the time to get into them as I am taking on a new quest, as well as the usual, but more of that in a week or two.

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Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Set on the French Riviera in the 1920s, American Dick Diver and his wife Nicole are the epitome of chic, living a glamorous lifestyle and entertaining friends at their villa. Young film star Rosemary Hoyt arrives in France and becomes entranced by the couple. It is not long before she is attracted to the enigmatic Dick, but he and his wife hold dark secrets and as their marriage becomes more fractured, Fitzgerald laments the failure of idealism and the carefully constructed trappings of high society in the Roaring Twenties.

This somewhat autobiographical novel is an interesting read, not only for the story itself, but also for the extra examination of Fitzgerald’s dependency on alcohol and his wife’s Schizophrenia.  This, his final and favourite novel is certainly a mixed bag but well worth picking up.

The old cliché about Americans who visit other countries is reinforced here as many of the characters retain a strong American identity but seem purposefully oblivious (and superior) to the cultures that surround them.  The locals tolerating their shenanigans partly because of America’s role in the war and, inevitably, the riches brought to a shattered continent recovering from the horrors of the First World War.

There is a vacuous nature to the majority of the characters, at one point I began to wonder if I would be bothered by the fates of any of them.  In a world filled with frivolous parties and empty conversations, the carefully manufactured and cultivated superficial facades mean so much to the characters, who like actors are putting on a well rehearsed show.

“When there were enough Americans on the platform the first impression of their immaculacy and their money began to fade into a vague racial dusk that hindered and blinded both them and their observers.” Continue reading “Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald”

The Bridge of Little Jeremy – Indrajit Garai

Jeremy’s mother is about to go to prison for their debt to the State. He is trying everything within his means to save her, but his options are running out fast. Then Jeremy discovers a treasure under Paris. This discovery may save his mother, but it doesn’t come for free. And he has to ride over several obstacles for his plan to work. Meanwhile, something else is limiting his time…

After reading two volumes of Garai’s short stories this is the first novel by the author, once again the focus is on the troubled times of his characters, and how they respond to the problems presented.  The down to earth approach to telling a story gives it the edge over those authors that attempt to force an emotional response from the reader with unneeded flourishes.

Taking place in Paris – a source of artistic and literary inspiration for many throughout the ages – I was pleased to see that both made appearances within the story, whilst Garai’s eye for natural beauty – and degradation – in the often ignored urban areas helps layer a further feeling of the city’s atmosphere and depth.

The titular character Jeremy is interesting in his introspective, self-examining ways.  His solitary approach to life – somewhat enforced thanks to circumstances – gives him the drive to fix things, even if they don’t always work out in the way he intended. Continue reading “The Bridge of Little Jeremy – Indrajit Garai”

A Brief History of Central America – Hector Perez-Brignoli

centrecourtThis is the first interpretive history of Central America by a Central American historian to be published in English. Anyone with an interest in current events in the region will find here an insightful and well-written guide to the history of its five national states – Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Traces of a common past invite us to make generalizations about the region, even to posit the idea of a Central American nation. But, asHector Perez-Brignoli shows us, we can learn more from a comparative approach that establishes both the points of convergence and the separate paths taken by the five different countries of Central America.

Sometimes it seems that the countries that make up the Mesoamerican region are presented as just that, a homogenous zone that just happens to have borders.  The complexity of the area is compelling and laid out in a detailed and sprawling summary.

This, the first native overview to be published in English aims to explore the histories, views and motivations of the various peoples, it’s a history from the 16th century all the way through to nineteen eighty-seven. Despite being written by a local, the work is detached from any emotional analysis and has led me to take an interest in the present condition of these countries.

The historical account is a comprehensive loss of pre-columbian culture, countries pillaged and subjugated, then rendered weak by Spanish leaving.  The – sadly – expected tales of repression, class inequality, coups, general chaos, corruption, and foreign powers meddling for their own good are all seen here as expected. Continue reading “A Brief History of Central America – Hector Perez-Brignoli”

Theory of Religion – Georges Bataille

“Religion”, according to Bataille, “is the search for a lost intimacy.”  In a brilliant and tightly reasoned argument he proceeds to develop a “general economy” of man’s relation to this intimacy:  from the seamless immanence of animality, to the shattered world of objects, and the partial, ritual recovery of the intimate order through the violence of sacrifice.  Bataille then reflects on the archaic festival in which he sees not only the glorious affirmation of life through the destructive consumption but also the seeds of another, more ominous order – war.

It’s been a while since I dipped my toe into the world of Philosophy and it was extremely fortuitous that I decided to start here.  It’s hard to know what to expect from Bataille, a writer on such diverse subjects as mysticism, the surreal, poetry, and erotica.

Bataille was an atheist so naturally a book entitled Theory of Religion was always going to pique my interest.  The title in in itself is misleading, this is not about organised religion as we would think of it today but something more ancient, an innate need to separate the physical from the spiritual.

The more naturalistic elements of understanding the divine are explored, The severance from our animal ancestors through evolution, but with a wish to retain a connection despite community being favoured over the competitive singular. Continue reading “Theory of Religion – Georges Bataille”

The Secret: A Treasure Hunt – Byron Preiss

One morning, whilst waiting for my strong cup of coffee to kick in, and the laptop to boot up the latest manuscript that needs going over , I stuck on the Travel Channel in the hope of finding some adventure.  Or more importantly to avoid all the terrible reality TV that ruins the medium.

Josh Gates was on doing his Expedition Unknown, and at first my heart sank when his quest involved  a book called The Secret,  thankfully it wasn’t referring to that terrible specimen that came out some years ago.

What Josh was referring to was a book that leads to real buried treasure,  and instead of  a classic  ‘X’ marks the spot treasure maps, there are twelve fantasy images  with clues of real world landmarks cryptically embedded within. Accompanying each illustration is poetry with additional clues to entice the reader into this deceptive maze.

Published in 1982, creator Byron Preiss tapped into the The 80’s love of fantasy but he layered it with the theme of immigration, from the Old World to the New.  The fantastical creatures of Europe came over, and morphed into something else, along with those that told the tales.  It is also an encouragement to get out and travel, to appreciate nature, and enjoy a bit of lateral thinking at the same time. Continue reading “The Secret: A Treasure Hunt – Byron Preiss”

A History of Christianity – Diarmaid MacCulloch

How did the cult around an obscure spiritual teacher from Nazareth in the first century come to be the world’s biggest religion, with a third of humanity its followers?  This epic, acclaimed history follows the story of Christianity around the globe, from ancient Palestine to contemporary China.  encompassing wars, empires, reformers, apostles, sects and crusaders, it shows how Christianity has brought humanity to the most terrible acts of cruelty – and inspired its most sublime accomplishments.

Any book starting off with some etymology between Hebrew and Greek words automatically tell me that this was going to be a good book, and so it proved over 1016 pages of small print.  Its dense on facts but in a good way and has some gorgeous photos.  I learned a lot and have a lot more questions.

Is it a complete history of Christianity? No, as MacCullough is quick to establish.  I wonder if there can be such a thing, like a complete history of the Mediterranean, it just seems way too complex for a single volume, or even a single lifetime of work.  What the reader does get though is a fair, balanced and comprehensive view between supposition and fact, by a good historian who occasionally drops in a bit of dry humour along the way.

There is plenty of depth here, hundreds of names and dates, and bouncing around between time frames but it never feels overwhelming and with short chapters focussing on specifics – of both Eastern and Western churches, then beyond –  it is an easily readable if turbulent book. Continue reading “A History of Christianity – Diarmaid MacCulloch”