Friday, 22 July 2011

The Crimson Rooms by Katherine MacMahon

First of all this is a great story. The plot keeps you guessing until the very end. It opens just after the end of the 1st World War, is set in north London, and visits Middlesex and Buckinghamshire - country areas newly being enjoyed by working people for the cost of a railway ticket. There is quite a bit of bus travel too - in London.

The writer shows what the professional life of a female lawyer/ solicitor must have been like in this narrow-minded profession at the time: dominated by the patronising male lawyers and their archaic
This may not strike you as a promising source of interest but with the other layers of life revealed by the writer it provides a dramatic background.

Strong characters conflict in this period of repressed sexual and social habits. The senseless loss of  life in the war (1914-18) of the young men of a generation and the effect on the lives of those who survived and on the lives of the women left needing to be loved is another element of the background.

Under these layers what emerges is a great detective story, and a great love story, albeit short. That makes three times I have used the word 'great' about it - so draw your own conclusions. ( 9/10)

Blog of Katherine MacMahon (

Saturday, 26 March 2011

John Masters and his books

Have you heard of the film Bhowani Junction, made in 1956, starring Ava Gardner? The story was from a book by John Masters. There is a review of a biography of Masters by John Clay referred to on this blog (Look for a piece dated June, 2007)

Masters' books were popular in the 1950s and 1960s which was when I read several of them. He wrote a series of 7 books dealing with one family through the period of the British rule in India:

Coromandel; The Deceivers; Nightrunners of Bengal; The Lotus and the Wind; Far,far the Mountain Peak; Bhowani Junction; To the Coral Strand

- a set of interesting titles. I still remember with dread the Thuggees who preyed on travellers in India, described in the second book. It is a strong warning against accepting help from seemingly sympathetic people when you are in unfamiliar areas.

In 1984-5 there was an 18-part serial based on this writer's stories on Radio 4.

For a full list of his books, and details of his life 

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Deaf Sentence by David Lodge, c. 2008, pub Penguin Books

Desmond Bates, a university teacher of Linguistics (Linguistics is about describing languages rather than learning them) retires early because of deafness. The story is mainly about his relationships with three people. First, with his wife who with a female friend developed an interior design business. Secondly, with his father living alone in the former family home and getting increasingly frail and cantankerous. Thirdly with an American post-graduate female student who gets in touch with him for help with her thesis on the structure of notes left by people who committed suicide.

These characters provide the main background for plausible situations in which his deafness leads him into uncertainty and inevitable comedy. Alex, the American woman provides some sexual excitement and threatens a quiet life. In his relationship with his father he is compassionate in dealing with a spiky oldie, including the funeral. On a visit to Poland during a British Council sponsored lecture tour Bates visits Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau, the latter the extermination site. Compared to the horrors that took place there, the threats and difficulties of life with deafness must seem easy to endure. Perhaps that was why the author included the visit in his story.