The Ministry of Fear – Graham Greene

TMoFFor Arthur Rowe the charity fête was a trip back to childhood, to innocence, a welcome chance to escape the terror of the Blitz, to forget twenty years of his past and a murder. Then he guesses the weight of the cake, and from that moment on he’s a hunted man, the target of shadowy killers, on the run and struggling to remember and to find the truth.

For those of you who like a bit of paranoia and deception in your literature, you can’t go far wrong with this novel.  This short and pacy read is partly reminiscent of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps but goes much deeper into the human aspect such events evoke..

Arthur, our accidental protagonist is a mind estranged from the world, struggling to comprehend the seismic changes around him as well as his past actions.

His turmoil of an ordinary individual tortured by his inner demons, coupled with the usual struggles of a lonely man. One just trying to get along, reveals a vulnerable side which has you rooting for the type of chap he is.

This layered character is the everyman, a real human with which each reader can see themselves in his place and empathise with.  His struggles living through the Blitz, at the heart of wartime England just trying to survive and keep same…yet at the same time way out of his depth is a familiar feeling to all of us at some point.

What starts off as a gentle read quickly becomes an intricate tale with lots of questions and loose ends that beg to be tied up.  Starting at a fete, it all feels very nostalgic and British, guessing the weight of the cake is practically a national pastime over here.  Things quickly become serious and mysterious though, giving us a classic innocent man hunted scenario albeit one that also focuses more on themes such as identity and guilt in the past.
Continue reading “The Ministry of Fear – Graham Greene”

The Complete Maus – Art Spiegelman

MauzCombined for the first time here are Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale and Maus II – the complete story of Vladek Spiegelman and his wife, living and surviving in Hitler’s Europe. By addressing the horror of the Holocaust through cartoons, the author captures the everyday reality of fear and is able to explore the guilt, relief and extraordinary sensation of survival – and how the children of survivors are in their own way affected by the trials of their parents. A contemporary classic of immeasurable significance.

it’s easy to get lost in the horrifying statistics of the Holocaust but this personal account makes for a powerful and poignant view on one of histories most tragic events. Hindsight of the inevitable makes this book doubly sad, reading of those incomprehensible actions of past that can only be relived with a sense of helplessness and inevitability.

Presented in black and white, the art fits in with the footage and photos from that time, an almost unreal, colourless world which makes it easier to digest than most literature concerning the Holocaust. Characters are represented as animals and the inevitable questions are raised over what exactly these animals say about each race, naturally simplistic generalisations are easy to fall into but there is surprising depth to be pondered upon.

Spiegelman opts to introduce us to the events through the tried and tested story within a story approach, which works well up to a point, its strength lies in allowing the reader to form an understanding of how events in World war II have affected and irrevocably changed Vladek Speigelman.  Viewing his idiosyncracies with this hindsight makes for more depth of character which is a welcome aside from the obvious barbarism.

The family dynamic is fascinating, with hardship running through the past and guilt issues in the present, it is understandable how the family is like they are.  I didn’t expect to find them irritating but the foibles are repetitive and not in the least endearing, there is even a mention of racism which is interesting after the experiences of war.  Perhaps the author being of a younger generation struggles to understand the atrocities and concepts in the US now at (relative) peace. Continue reading “The Complete Maus – Art Spiegelman”

The Hanging Garden – Patrick White

15983323Sydney, Australia, 1942. Two children, on the cusp of adolescence, have been spirited away from the war in Europe and given shelter in a house on Neutral Bay, taken in by the charity of an old widow who wants little to do with them. The boy, Gilbert, has escaped the Blitz. The girl, Eirene, lost her father in a Greek prison. Left to their own devices, the children forge a friendship of startling honesty, forming a bond of uncommon complexity that they sense will shape their destinies for years to come.

Seen through the eyes of the young the world can seem like a distressing, grotesque and thoroughly grey place, especially for children living through extraordinary times and upheavals.

In his last and unfinished novel, Patrick White has the seed of what was to be his final epic.  With the trademark downbeat feeling that he does so well, the themes of longing and melancholy course through this work and punctuate right at the heart of the social ills that society attempts to hide beneath a veneer of respectability.

tonight I am the Meccano set no-one will ever put together, even if all the bits are there.

Class is the epitome of the social disease and this commentary into the nature of the adults is a parody of the respectability and selflessness they portray, the inherent selfishness of human nature, even in good acts is shown to be most farcical in the face of an innocent child’s perception.

the character viewpoint changes rapidly and seamlessly as innermost thoughts are explored in brutal honesty.  At times, the perspective changes once or twice within the same paragraph but never to the detriment of the narrative flow.  The beauty of White’s style is that he leaves you in no doubt about what each character is doing or thinking at any time…in a way his style – for me – depicts the all round complete character portrait. Continue reading “The Hanging Garden – Patrick White”

Charley’s War – Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun

CharleysWarOneLargeGraphic novels/comic books are an underrated medium but one stand out comic series has been re-released in the last few years makes everything all right with the world again. Bringing together as it does an important anti-war message as well as a compelling storyline.

War serials in comics – the British comics at least – have a rich history stories which usually featured one hero running through a hail of bullets whilst everyone was being cut down and saving the day.

Charley’s War though is refreshingly different, not only bringing the insanity and horrors of war to the fore but also framing a moving and action packed story in the world of static trench warfare.

Appearing in Battle Picture Weekly, the story follows Charley Bourne a 16 year old who lied to get into the army and subsequently arrives at the trenches not long before the Battle of the Somme is due to start, what follows is a powerfully poignant tale of growing up, of life, death, friendship, bitterness and questions of why?

Although the subject matter is no doubt grim, it is offset not only with the legendary camaraderie of the troops abut also with some clever and  wonderfully moving plot devices to stop you warying from the inhumanity of the conflict.  One of which are the letters exchanged between Charley and his family, which start out all care free like he is on an adventure and having fun. Later when the realities of war kick in and he changes and grows harder to the carnage around him, we see the frivolities of family life back home and how the letters from the front keep the upbeat tone as the world goes to hell around him, it’s an admirable and touching thing he does, adding a lot of depth to his character. Continue reading “Charley’s War – Pat Mills & Joe Colquhoun”

Operation Mincemeat – Ben MacIntyre

‘One April morning in 1943, a sardine fisherman spotted the corpse of a British soldier floating in the sea off the coast of Spain and set in train a course of events that would change the course of the Second World War”.

Operation Mincemeat is one of the most audacious true stories of the 20th century if not ever.  Featuring, as it does, Mr Ian Fleming (he of James Bond authoring fame), you may be deceived into thinking this is a fiction book, but that is the first bit of misdirection you will come across in this true story spy thriller.

And thrilled you certainly shall be! The mission, (should you choose to read it, will happily not destruct five seconds after you finish) was to comprehensively hoodwink the entire German hierarchy into believing the Allies would attack Greece instead of Sicily, by deploying a dead soldier with fake plans and forged papers into the seas off of ‘neutral’ Spain.

This dead man however is no soldier, he has a history that is entirely made up and a past life lived for him by British wartime intelligence.  A personal life that is so detailed in its planning that its perpetrators eventually start to believe their own duplicity.

Operation Mincemeat is much more than just a dry retelling of a historical event however, it actually reads like a wartime thriller, and essentially that’s what it is. Ben MacIntyre clearly has a passion for wartime espionage and it shows through here with this rollercoaster historical account which shows the lengths the coverup had to go too, and the paranoia and spy shenanigans that both sides partook in. Continue reading “Operation Mincemeat – Ben MacIntyre”