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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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Tally’s Corner: A Study of Negro Streetcorner Men – Elliot Liebow

thecornerThe first edition of Tally’s Corner, a sociological classic selling more than one million copies, was the first compelling response to the culture of poverty thesis-that the poor are different and, according to conservatives, morally inferior-and alternative explanations that many African-Americans are caught in a tangle of pathology owing to the absence of black men in families. The debate has raged up to the present day. Yet Liebow’s shadow theory of values-especially the values of poor, urban, black men-remains the single most parsimonious account of the reasons why the behavior of the poor appears to be at odds with the values of the American mainstream.

While Elliot Liebow’s vivid narrative of “street-corner” black men remains unchanged, the new introductions to this long-awaited revised edition bring the book up to date. Wilson and Lemert describe the debates since 1965 and situate Liebow’s classic text in respect to current theories of urban poverty and race. They account for what Liebow might have seen had he studied the street corner today after welfare has been virtually ended and the drug economy had taken its toll. They also take stock of how the new global economy is a source of added strain on the urban poor. Discussion of field methods since the 1960s rounds out the book’s new coverage.

I first became aware of this book through reading the excellent The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighbourhood; which would eventually form the bedrock of so many storylines in The Wire.  In many ways that book is the perfect follow-up to Tally’s Corner, which in itself is a dynamic study of relationships in poorer neighbourhoods and their place in wider society.

This seminal work focuses on a cross-section of a Washington DC street corner society (poor African-American men who work only intermittently if at all) and the local environs.  It gives the reader a glimpse into a different world, where the choices both men and women make have come about through the struggle against poverty through generations. It’s a world where different rules apply exclusively to them no matter how absurd some will appear to outsiders.

It is thus, a book that rewards reading and learning not so much with pleasure as with the painful recognition that American race troubles remain so stubbornly at the center of social and economic life.

The above quote underlines the lack of understanding still prevailing all these years on, or perhaps the lack of interest in solving the problems that affect us all in some way.  Focussing on the men – who pass mostly under the radar – and their relationships – both work and family – the reader is given an intimate portrait into the life of the time. The cast is fairly sizeable and diverse and all the stories are equally fascinating of challenging in different ways. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 05/03/2017 in Sociology

 

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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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Four Days in January: A Letter to Jillsan – Nils-Johan Jørgensen

letteringThis is a modern tale, a journey of the heart, a road back, revisiting many cities and enduring Eastern and Western sentiments to light and lighten our understanding of life’s fleeting appearance.

It is a way of honouring the life of a loved one, to tell a personal story that reflects the shared, universal truth of the silence of loss from Kakimoto to Goethe and beyond.

Four Days in January is a beautifully told, deeply moving and poignant letter of loss, yet also the celebration of the life of a loved one through allegory, music, poetry and personal records.

Told in letter-form, Four Days in January records the story of two lovers and their lives through marriage and parenthood following his diplomatic career spent in different parts of the world, and the role and dedication of the diplomat’s wife.

Here is a very open volume that offers an array of inspirational thoughts for anyone facing loss and bereavement.

Having read most of Mr Jørgensen’s other books this one, whilst no less readable was an altogether different beast. It is a meditation on life as well as loss.  A union of two coming together to live as one, of a love that really shines through, a life lived fully but also a statement on the cruelty of having it cut short.

The beginning takes us through the unfolding tragedy of a life suddenly declining. It is told in an unflinching way and it moved this reader immensely.  Despite reading this book in January, I know that the opening will be the best one I read all year, which is saying something as I continue to amass great literature.

This personal final letter to his love is an intimate portrait, delicately penned, a chronicle of a shared existence, told through a number of key vignettes.  What makes this an intensely moving piece of work is that it is real life, good and bad things happen but it is a reminder to appreciate it every day for what it is.  Even the most mundane of times can become something beautiful when viewed the right way. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 23/02/2017 in Autobiography, Life, Memoir

 

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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.
Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 13/02/2017 in History, Modern Classics, Politics

 

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Booked Up for a While

It’s been a while and although this is sadly not the review I mentioned in the last post, it is nonetheless a post.  Recently I have been distracted by even more good literature (fiction and non fiction) and I’m really excited to be in the process reviewing.  I will do that as soon as I can but first, here is a bunch of new books that cost less than a tenner.

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There is a sensible reason for these purchases, wanting to downsize my books somewhat this year, It makes sense to buy more books so I can feel inspired to start clearing the ones I don’t want anymore as I read/review them.This is logical as otherwise I would be drowned by paper through my own laziness and/or hoarding tendencies.

these purchases also represent a pile of firsts, which just occurred to me as I was casting around for more to say about them… Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 09/02/2017 in Blogging, Lists/Ephemera

 

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