Tag Archives: literature

Reading out Loud #2

The second entry in a (very) occasional series of words that caught and held my attention, that are well worth sharing.

“Human relationships flourish and decay, quickly and silently, so that those concerned scarcely know how brittle, or how inflexible, the ties that bind them have become.”  – Anthony Powell – A Question of Upbringing

“He reached for his pocket, and found there, only reality” – Victor Hugo – The Hunchback of Notre Dame

“He was one of the numerous and varied legion of dullards, of half-animated abortions, conceited, half-educated coxcombs, who attach themselves to the idea most in fashion only to vulgarize it and who caricature every cause they serve, however sincerely.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Crime and Punishment

“Proof is what lies at the heart of maths, and is what marks it out from other sciences. Other sciences have hypotheses that are tested against experimental evidence until they fail, and are overtaken by new hypotheses. In maths, absolute proof is the goal, and once something is proved, it is proved forever, with no room for change.” – Simon Singh – Fermat’s Last Theorem Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 08/03/2018 in Book Memories, Lists/Ephemera


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I, Claudius – Robert Graves

Despised for his weakness and regarded by his family as little more than a stammering fool, the nobleman Claudius quietly survives the intrigues, bloody purges and mounting cruelty of the imperial Roman dynasties. In I, Claudius he watches from the sidelines to record the reigns of its emperors: from the wise Augustus and his villainous wife Livia to the sadistic Tiberius and the insane excesses of Caligula. Written in the form of Claudius’ autobiography, this is the first part of Robert Graves’s brilliant account of the madness and debauchery of ancient Rome, and stands as one of the most celebrated, gripping historical novels ever written.

Sometimes, reflecting on the literature that you like is disturbing, especially with a novel such as this which is full of violence – although surprisingly less detailed gore than one would imagine for the era – and debauchery .  It is a pleasure to report that I unashamedly loved this book in all its blood soaked storytelling.

This novel and its sequel Claudius the God were written in a hurry and only due to pressing financial needs Graves claimed, which makes it an astonishing feat for the impressive quality of the work on offer.  Whilst it has some gross distortions of history and the featured personalities, it is wonderfully entertaining and highly readable as a fictional autobiography should be.  You don’t need to be familiar with the era, part of the charm of the work is to research as you go and see what is correct, contentious and what is pure propaganda on Claudius’ part.

Claudius is a likeable narrator, his observant nature makes for a considered historian – his chosen profession – largely ignored because of his disabilities and perceived lack of intelligence, this allowed him to avoid the jealousies (and untimely fates) of his power seeking contemporaries.  Watching from the sidelines as our narrator does, the reader is given the impression of happy accidents or small triumphs that are attributed to Claudius yet with what we know from history, this adds another unreliable slant to the narration which is pleasantly and sometimes endearingly human.

The plot is a seething mass of machinations from the off and curiously, for an autobiography, begins before the birth of Claudius.  The sheer volume of scheming and drama put all modern soap operas to shame and the amount of detail – fictitious or otherwise – shows why this is considered to be a modern classic in the historical fiction genre.  Although it seems convoluted, and it is in a good way, everything is made clear and the reader is never swamped with too much information at one time.

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Posted by on 02/03/2018 in Autobiography, Fiction


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Black Sheep – Susan Hill

Brother and sister, Ted and Rose Howker, grew up in Mount of Zeal, a mining village blackened by coal. They know nothing of the outside world, though both of them yearn for escape. For Rose this comes in the form of love, while Ted seizes the chance of a job away from the pit. But neither can truly break free and their decisions bring with them brutal consequences…

dispensing with the normal ghost story – always atmospherically written by Hill –  which has become a bit of a tradition for me around the holiday season, this year I chose this short story instead to mix it up a bit.  Whilst not being conducive to Christmas cheer in any way whatsoever, it was a very rewarding read.

As the front cover says this is a bleak piece of writing and I can imagine that a lot of people may well be put off by that, however I really appreciated it for its unflinching portrayal of a tough and cheerless life.  The story is told in few words and as such the shortness of the book helps the reader through, as being under 150 pages long/short means the story is manageable over a brief period and doesn’t drag the reader into too much despair.

The miners and their families are easily recognisable, they could have come from other iconic works.  The citizens of the community resemble less extreme versions of those found in Zola’s Germinal or Dickens’ Hard Times for example. It does feel almost clichéd in that respect Hill writes on the side of accuracy as memorably depicted by plenty of authors and social commentors such as George Orwell’s insightful and agonising The Road to Wigan Pier.

As well written as it is, sometimes this is a tough read but I found it a book I could read quickly and more importantly wanted to read in a couple of sessions.  The strengths of the book lie in the simple yet descriptive writing, which contains many interesting and well-rounded characters and their struggles with their severe reality, of life and loss. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 19/01/2018 in Fiction


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Starting Again

I have returned after a long journey and internet connection problems and it is great to finally make it onto the blog in another continent.  Hunting out photos for this post from Crissy’s Facebook, it came to mind that there is still a post or two that needs chronicling from my last trip out here, namely a beautiful place called Batanes so here is a teaser photo for what is to come in the future.

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Getting back to this time though and within a week and a half the first cold of the year had already found its way to me, not bad for a country with weather that resembles a pleasant Summer’s day most of the time. After plenty of wedding planning – the busy nature of which meant that I didn’t get any jet lag whatsoever (which is a pleasant surprise) – I’ve also been catching up with the fam bam over some wonderful meals as well.

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In the dark time of no internet service, I have been reading plenty of books (twice in the offices of Philippine Airlines) and also have two more on the laptop from authors regular readers will be familiar with, namely Indrajit Garai and Nicholas Conley.  Lots is happening and this is going to be an exciting year so a belated happy new year to you all, may you all have an exceedingly good year.


Posted by on 17/01/2018 in Blogging, The Philippines, Travel


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The Luzhin Defense – Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov’s third novel, The Defense, is a chilling story of obsession and madness. As a young boy, Luzhin was unattractive, distracted, withdrawn, sullen–an enigma to his parents and an object of ridicule to his classmates. He takes up chess as a refuge from the anxiety of his everyday life. His talent is prodigious and he rises to the rank of grandmaster–but at a cost: in Luzhin’s obsessive mind, the game of chess gradually supplants the world of reality. His own world falls apart during a crucial championship match, when the intricate defense he has devised withers under his opponent’s unexpected and unpredictable lines of assault.

You would have thought he’d opt for a winnin’ defence!  Now that bad, not to mention obvious and cringeworthy joke is out of the way, I’ll leave the comedy and your tolerance in peace.

This being one of Nabakov’s earlier works, there are hints of the writer he would later become; with some wonderful prose in places, that demands the reader savour such lines appreciatively.

Like Stefan Zweig’s Chess, The Luzhin Defense is a fascinating leap into the mind (and abstract genius) of a grandmaster, with its sad but gripping descent into madness.  In this case we see the beginnings in his formative years, a lonely, tortured child unable to integrate with his peers and family who comes across the game and becomes seduced by the simplicity and more importantly the complexity of the it.

Luzhin is a closed, provocative character and very hard to like to begin with, although I softened up to him quickly, he is exhausting, uncommunicative, both annoying and likeable, and absurd.  Without this earlier connect to his childhood I probably would have become frustrated with the direction of the man over time and certainly a lot less sympathetic to him. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 14/12/2017 in Fiction


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Monumental Reading

Many thanks to Crissy for taking this and the pther Philippines photos

by dint of studying, of analysing myself, of reaching out for higher things, and of a thousand corrections, I was transformed little by little, thanks to the influence of a beneficent professor….cultivating poetry and rhetoric had elevated my feelings, and Virgil, Cicero, and other authors showed me a new path which I could take. – Jose Rizal, spoken shortly before his execution on 30th December 1896

*photo taken near the Rizal monument in Rizal park…I was reading Rizal.


Posted by on 08/12/2017 in History, The Philippines, Travel


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

Anthony 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 4 contains the last three novels in the sequence: Books do Furnish a Room; Temporary Kings; Hearing Secret Harmonies.

As ever no spoilers will be contained in this review so as not to mar the experience for readers yet to embark on, or are already in amongst the wonderful prose.

Having read each season in a different one, Spring in Autumn, Summer in winter and so forth, I finally finished Winter in the heat of August and feel that melancholy of emptiness when eventually concluding a mammoth series and wondering what could top that.

Starting book ten I was feeling a little sad for this, the twilight of the final trilogy and it seemed my thoughts were echoed by Narrator Nick as well. It has been an absolute pleasure to watch characters come and go and age but sadly these last three books didn’t quite live up the magnificent first nine books.

As journey’s go, this one has been immensely gratifying. Even this late into the series, there are still new characters to be met as well as much welcomed appearances from the series stalwarts. Although after the previous war books, the original cast does feel sparse and it does leave a gap, knowing that those characters won’t be popping up unexpectedly in the Dance.

What makes it a little less immersive is the modernity of its time, whilst the inevitability of things moving on is one thing, the choice of actions and, in particular words chosen in their speech felt jarring against previous books.  In other chronicles, this would, perhaps, be a minor point but having the grounding books one to seven (and arguably eight as well), the change has been subtle but is easy to trace on reflection.

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Posted by on 30/09/2017 in Fiction, Modern Classics


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