Thursday, 10 March 2016

A few quick thoughts

I've been doing some reading, but haven't posted my thoughts for a while. One book I found an interesting read was Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North, which was 2014's Booker prize winner. The story of Darrigo Evans, a Tasmanian who becomes a doctor just before the Second World War. He joins the Australian army , becomes an officer and is eventually posted to the Asian theatre of war, where he becomes a prisoner of the Japanese and one of the many men who were forced to build the notorious Burma railway. A large part of the book describes the appalling conditions of that situation, but also tells of Darrigo's attempts to make life easier for the men. In contrast to the horror of war, Darrigo's experiences with women, his wife and others are tenderly narrated.

I actually enjoyed Niall Williams The History of the Rain more, although it was only (!) longlisted for the 2014 Man Booker prize. Narrated by Ruth Swain, lying in her attic bedroom under a skylight streaming with rain, surrounded by her father's library.Although it seemed a little slow to get into, when Ruth begins to tell her family story, I became absorbed in the book. We all have family stories behind us, as well as making our own. Ruth tells of how her father grew up, how his family first came to Ireland, how her parents met and her father's attempts at farming on their 14 aces of unsuitable land. Ruth's comments on the events around her are delightfully sharp and funny, and the writing is lovely. Ruth's descriptions of her father's books and her relationship to a huge number of individual titles is fascinating, as is the importance of actual physical books to her, her father and grandmother.
A wonderful story of lives as they are being lived, about human failings and sadness, but also about hope and persistence.

D J Taylor's The Windsor Faction starts from the assumption that Wallis Simpson died on the operating table and that Edward VIII carries on as king. It's a "What if history had been different" story, which makes for interesting fiction, especially as in this tale, several of the characters are real. The extracts from the diaries of Beverly Nichols are a nice touch - I've only read a few of his gardening books in the past, and Edwards behaviour seems to be based on the many biographies and memoirs that are about him. We also get a different point of view, that of Cynthia Kirkpatrick, who returns to England from Ceylon as World War Two breaks out. Cynthia becomes a secretary at a literary magazine, and also is involved with Tyler Kent  and eventually is asked to work for MI5. The atmosphere of what is called "the phony war" is evoked very well, and the whole story is enjoyable, especially as we know the eventual outcome of the war in real life, but is not apparent at the end of this story.

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