Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Fight by Norman Mailer - Penguin, copyright 1975

In 1975 at Kinshasa in Zaire, Mohammed Ali met champion George Foreman in a fight for the World Heavyweight Championship. Could Ali regain the title against the undefeated Foreman?

I had forgotten who won this fight in the heart of the continent of Africa - where many Americans have their roots. Mailer, very often referring to himself as Norm, shows an insight into boxing and the outlook of the boxers and all those others involved in the sport at the highest level. Together with the racial politics, the equatorial climate, the poverty of most of the population compared to Mobutu's garnered wealth -the fight itself has a complex background which Mailer vividly explains.

A gem of a book. Mailer knows he is dealing with magnificent characters. He also understands their excellence despite the brutal nature of the sport. I am not going to remind you who won 'the Rumble in the Jungle' but in any case it is much more than sports reporting. Just get hold of a copy!

Friday, 27 August 2010

Over Summer ...........

It is a great method of finding authors I would not otherwise choose or even come across. Summer visitors bring their holiday reading and then leave it behind for me to read. Thanks to Nick and Pippa for the following enjoyment.
  • Captured by Neil Cross.       
  • Where is it going? So you read on! Gets worse.

  • Brodeck's Report by Philippe Claudel          
  • Why doesn't Brodeck get a proper job? you ask. Creepy.

  • Land of Marvels by Barry Unsworth             
  • He's from Durham, bound to be good. An archaelogist is fulfilling his dream of directing an excavation in Mesopotamia. The characters in the story feel that war is near (1914), and you just know that Somerville the archaeologist is going to have to cut it fine or lose. 
I have been in Mesopotamia before in this blog with Georgina Howell's inspiring hagiography of Gertrude Bell.
  • One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson              
  • Phew! She can tell tales.

  • The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam            
  • What a writer! Afghanistan from inside. Mericans, Moslems, Russians and a Brit. Full marks.

  • A Reliable Wife by Robert Goodrick            
  • Rural Wisconsin. Heavy stuff. I cried in the end. A bit.

  • The Sidmouth Letters by Jane Gardam                 
  • Short stories. Beautiful to read.
And finally when everyone had gone home I found this: My Trade by Andrew Marr. (A Short History of British Journalism). I opened it without much enthusiasm, and find now that I must have started near the middle. I went back to the beginning to finish an enjoyable read about the craft of television interviewing and of newspaper reporting. Plus a short guide to good writing, a hilarious interview for his first job, and much more.
Summer reading with the 6 bears ......last year.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Stalin's Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith 2007 Pan Macmillan

The punishment taken by Arkady Renko, Police Investigator is beyond reason. He walks into situations that Chandler's Marlowe didn't even get near. Arkady is the same policeman met in Gorky Park, an earlier book by this author made into a film. (Review and details at

It is a great read. You feel the chaos and the cool of the New Russia. A 'blitz' is a televised chess competition played at a rapid pace producing a winner in an hour. A 'dig' takes place on a site where it was thought that a battle with the German army took place but the weapons and skeletons uncovered tell another story.

You meet vivid characters in different roles, for example, an estate agent turns out to be also a surgeon. This really is worth a read. 10 out of 10 despite the unreasonable battering taken by policeman Renko. Unlike Chandler the writer does not do one-liners. They wouldn't fit.
And then there's Stalin's Ghost ....seen at a Metro Station in Moscow.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

The Comedians by Graham Greene. 1965. The Bodley Head and Wm Heinemann

The photo is of Papa Doc at his installation ceremony as Haiti's President for Life in 1963. My thanks to copyright holder Pikiwiki Israel for allowing free use.

The earthquake in Haiti in January this year was a colossal tragedy: 230,000 dead, 300,000 injured and a million people homeless. Amongst the early televised reports and interviews was one with the Haitian ambassador in Washington. He seemed mainly concerned with the safety of his boss, the prime minister of  Haiti. He assured us that this man was safe and well.  I was reminded of an earlier horror of a different type that had happened to this poor country: a governing clique that ruled by fear with a self-appointed President for life. Graham Greene had dramatised this situation in a book I had read many years ago.

Set in the Haiti of dictator Papa Doc Duvalier and the Tonton Macoute (bogey men) with their black glasses and murderous reputation, the title is puzzling. There is not much to laugh at. There is a fine sense of minority representation in the characters. Greene always includes Roman Catholics and on this occasion Vegans. The latter are Mr and Mrs Smith, nice people with nice manners and firm beliefs who make up a lot of food in their hotel bedrooms. Brown, the main character meets up with them as passengers on a cargo ship from Philadelphia to Haiti, where Jones is also a passenger. ( Greene didn't bother with atmospheric names.)

Monday, 3 May 2010

The Rainbow and the Rose by Neville Shute (1958) Heinemann

TasmaniaImage via Wikipedia

The retirement to a small flying club in Tasmania was John Pascoe's choice. He had been an international airline Senior Captain  The choice could be compared to an international golfer retiring as the pro at a small golf club in the Shetlands. People come for lessons, get the hang of the skill and off they go flying their own fairways in the sky. This facet of the story made me feel that I actually could take flying lessons with someone like John and be in the air fearlessly solo in no time.

He always looked about the same, from the time I remember him when I was a boy. He would have been about five feet nine in height with partially grey hair, regular features, rather a fine face, very tanned, a little lined toward the end. He hadn't got a great deal of humour in him, rather stiff. Women liked him.
The narrator of the quote above

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The Great Lover (and Others Not So Good?)

Image of Jill Dawson by Tim Allen
The Great Lover by Jill Dawson, 2009, Hodder and Stoughton centres on Rupert Brooke through the eyes mainly of a young maid at The Orchard Tea Gardens near Cambridge with the poet regularly lodging nearby. The casualness with which Jill Dawson allows Brooke and cronies to spurn the law and convention feels real. But can you imagine a clique of academics as the celebrities of their time?  Personally, I can. I think she got it right.

Rupert Brooke
Image by Wikipedia
Brooke had charisma and you are alienated from him at first by his awareness of it. Then you realise it wasn't his fault. He was just being realistic.  Remembering that there was no television and such instant recognisability then: public wasn't quite so public. However, Brooke still seems vain and his clique arrogant. But he did have talent.

"If I should die, think only this of me ..."

Monday, 29 March 2010

The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy; my copy published by Macmillan, 1974

I first read this book and others by Hardy on working visits to Siguenza, Spain in the time of Franco.
The coolness and shade of the Dorset countryside: its woods, shady paths and umbriferous hedgerows were havens on the brightly hot and dry afternoons of a Spanish summer. Re-reading recently, in winter after many years, was entirely different.
I was surprised how handy woodland is for an author. In a wood you can come across any character the author wishes you to meet because people stroll out for pleasure. In the evening especially but not only. They must also walk to travel about the local area. In the woods they also overhear each other!! Things they are not supposed to overhear. They also come upon unlikely pairs of each other and so take a different path to be discreet.

The morals of the times

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Lost Child by Julie Myerson (2009)

From an e-mail sent by Pippa Hall - with permission

"I have just finished a Julie Myerson book
called Lost Child that I am fuming about as she irritated me all the way
through. It's about her son who gets hooked on
dope, quits school and does all the things that don't feel right to them and
their world - and it runs alongside the research she is doing on a Suffolk
family who lost 5 of their 8 children to consumption......... Incidentally,
I didn't choose this book - it was a Valentine's Day present from ....."

Anthropomorphic Valentine, circa 1950-1960Image via Wikipedia

Click to see a 2009 Review in the Telegraph about this book

Monday, 15 February 2010

The Amnesia Clinic by James Scudamore (2006) pub.Harcourt

A story of two schoolboys in Ecuador, one a 15-year-old British ex-pat the other the son of  a wealthy Ecuadorian family who lives with his uncle. They challenge each other by telling preposterous stories with Fabian's stories a form of bragging about his family. Fabian lives with Uncle Suarez in a gated compound and on visits there Anthony enjoys the licence to drink and smoke given to Fabian - as long as they don't go too far - which is what permissive adults usually say and not helpful!
Throughout there is some mystery about Fabian's parents. They were involved in a road accident and it seems that his father was killed. Fabian seems to believe that his mother is still alive. When Anthony comes up with a tale

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

The Adventures of Harry Rochester by Herbert Strang (1944) OUP

Tinted engraving of Queen Anne from an atlas c...

'Herbert Strang' is the one name for two men who from 1903 for forty years wrote books for boys.

Each page of this book has a title referring to the content below it on the page. I didn't even notice this until I had nearly finished the book. You don't look at the space at the top of each page, do you, when you read? It is usually an empty space. But not in this book. Once I found this page title I realised its usefulness. It is a summary that guides you to skip a page here and there without missing much. Writers are only human. Not all of their tens of  thousands of words are needed to understand and enjoy the story. And, of course, readers are also only human. An episode in a story may be interesting to one reader but not to another. You don't have to read every word to enjoy a book.

Early on in the book,