Monday, 5 September 2016

A reading medley

I've read a mix of books recently, but not yet blogged about any of them. Two of them were very interesting non-fiction , Coastlines by Patrick Barkham and The Edge f the World: how the North Sea made us who we are by Michael Pye.

Patrick Barkham's Coastlines, subtitled The Story of our Shore  is a ramble round those parts of the English coast which are owned by the National Trust under Operation Neptune, which was set up in 196, to protect those same parts from development - places such as Brownsea Island in Dorset, part of the Isle of Wight from the Needles, Tennyson Down and Blackgang Chine, part of the Durham coast, where coal mining took place. Many are popular spots for visitors, while others are small, less significant places, known mainly to local residents. 
A bit of a rag-bag of stories, but an interesting read, especially if one has visited any of these coastal areas. The writing usually flows well and each chapter ends with references to walks in the area, relevant maps and further readings. Should one want to follow these up, they would provide a lifetime of excursions and reading.

The Edge of the World : how the North Sea made us who we are by Michael is an historical look at the development of Northern Europe after the Romans left, about AD 400 up to the latter part of the 17th century. The author's premise is that the North Sea was at least as important in the cultural, political, social and any other development of Northern Europe as the Mediterranean sea. He has chapters on the Book Trade, Fashion, the Invention of Money,  and the Plague laws, all containing interesting anecdotes, and documented examples of how individual people or  groups took part in these activities or helped develop them. But much of what he quotes is fragmentary and although the author puts a lot of emphasis on the sea and the development of trade and shipping, it is not very detailed. A very interesting read but at times frustrating, as for me it raised almost as many questions as it purported to answer.  I think that most people with some interest in history and what happened after the Romans left Britain will enjoy it, but may also want to read more detail elsewhere.

Sarah Dunant's Blood and Beauty is one of her historical novels set in the Renaissance about the Borgias, specifically Pope Alexander Vl and his children Lucrezia and Cesare. Although a novel, obviously much research has been done, but this does not impinge too much on the story, as Sarah Dunant tries to concentrate on the thoughts and feelings of the characters which are may not necessarily be part of recorded history. Lucrezia comes across in this tale as a more sympathetic person than the myths that have come down to us would make us believe, but Cesare and his father the Pope seem to be as bad as they have been described by history. An interesting and enjoyable  read despite  or because of the scheming , mayhem and numerous murders for which the Borgia papacy was famous.

I picked up The Parasites by Daphne DuMaurier on a visit to my local library, as it was one of her novels I hadn't read. It is the story of the Delaneys, Maria, Niall and Celia and their talented parents. Maria is a talented actress, Niall a composer of popular songs, Celia cares for her increasingly frail father, a renowned singer. Their mother was wonderful dancer, their childhood one of touring with their parents. It is Maria's husband Sir Charles Wyndham who describes them as parasites. This comment cause the three Delaneys to reflect on their lives, their relationships to each other and their parents. Maria and Niall are not actually related to each by blood, as each is the child of Pappy and Mama by previous relationships. Celia is half-sister to both. The novel moves back and forth in time from their reflections of the past to the weekend which changes all their lives.  

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