About Me

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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Sunday, 27 September 2009

"Breakfast at Tiffany's" by Truman Capote

This is a bijou little novellette; it describes Holly Golightly, a young lady who lives in the apartment below the narrator. She is a penniless "society girl" who lives on men, some of whom she takes to bed, who pay for her to accompany them to parties etc. At the outset Holly is a mysterious and elusive girl who might have had a Hollywood screen test once. Slowly we learn more about her background and her past (though many of the revelations are contradictory and confusing) and we begin to fall in love with her multi-faceted character. Suddenly, all is snatched away and she disappears into a mysterious future.

Beautifully written.

September 2009, 100 pages

Thursday, 24 September 2009

"Goldfinger" by Ian Fleming

This was published in 1959; it is more dated than the film, it is darker and cruder and more human than the film, and it is better than the film. Iam Fleming is a very good thriller writer.

It starts with James Bond sitting in an airport departure lounge and thinking about the man he has just killed. He philosophises. You don't get that feeling in the books. Then he is recognised and his adventures start. All the key elements are there: the womanising (although the literary Bond is a lot less casual about sex than his cinematic counterpart), M and Moneypenny, the Aston Martin (with a lot fewer and less fancy gadgets), Goldfinger, Oddjob and Pussy Galore. Yet it is also a lot simpler and starker than the film. Oddjob drives a Ford Popular! Goldfinger's house is in Reculver. The Aston's armaments are a hidden compartment containing a long-barrelled Colt .45.

There are attitudes that immediately set the book before the modern world. A maitre d' is described as "a pansified Italian"; later Bond 'turns' lesbian Pussy Galore straight because, she says, "I never met a man before" (although she comes from the South where the definition of a virgin is a girl who can run faster than her brother!). Du Pont reveals that Goldfinger is not a Jew; if he had been he wouldn't have got into Du Pont's hotel. Bond earns just over 4,000 dollars a year.

But some things never change. Goldfinger is "dressed for the beach by Abercrombie & Fitch".

A delightful book from a master thriller writer.

September 2009, 264 pages.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

"Bridge on the River Kwai" by Pierre Boulle

One can't help thinking of the film! Of course there are a lot of differences.

I could never quite understand why the medical officer didn't tell the Colonel straight off that he was providing aid and comfort to the enemy. Even at the start when the Colonel refused to let his men escape from Singapore because they had been ordered to surrender....

The book is very interested in the psychology of the Colonel and his officers, particularly the engineer who takes such pride in building the best bridge he can; and of the saboteurs who wonder whether they will be able to cut a man's throat if they need to. It is actually very detailed in its descriptions of wartime sabotage and the jungle etc. It is  racist, of its time, when it contrasts the brutish Japanese officer Saito with the noble Brits and when it goes on about the advantages of Western technology over Eastern. Yet it almost redeems itself when it realises that the primary fear in both the Japanese and the English was the fear of losing face.

It is a simple narrative with lots of detail. It reminded me considerably of a James Bond book - much better and much more stark and brutal than one would expect from the films.

September 2009, 189 pages

"Millennium" by Tom Holland

I came to this book with great anticipation having read "Rubicon" (about the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire) and "Persian Fire" (about the wars between the Greeks and the Persians) by the same author. The latter of these was particularly brilliant, engrossing and informative.

I suppose that with such high Expectations "Millennium" was bound to disappoint. It rambled. Having started with the humbling of Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV by Pope Gregory at Canossa, which Holland believed to have been a turning-point in the fortunes of Europe, it then took over 350 pages to get back to it. I was never quite certain whether this was his theme or whether it was the concept that Europe was conditioned by the belief that the Millennium would see the appearance of the Anti-Christ (even more than 50 years afterwards) or whether everything was leading up to the Crusades (he ends with the massacre when the Crusaders take Jerusalem).

Nevertheless, "Millennium" has loads to enjoy. Like a Hollywood epic it has a cast of thousands, including the pope, Octavian, elected at 16,  notorious for promiscuity who installed a brothel in his palace and died "from a stroke, the result of overly strenuous grapplings with a married woman" (p69, well it had to be!). We also discover that King Harold (a Saxon with a Viking name) was much less entitled to the throne of England than either Harald Hardrada or William the Conqueror and that Hardrada, who was killed at the battle of Stamford Bridge, made a fortune in Constantinople, married the daughter of the Prince of Kiev and then became King of Norway. The town of Verdun, meanwhile, was famous for gelding Wends and then selling them as slaves to the Saracens of Spain They specialised in carzimasia who were eunuchs deprived of their penises as well as their testicles; the considerable medical risks causing wastage which "served only to increase the survivors' value" (p102). Ethelred the Unready became king aged 10 when his half-brother was assassinated, probably at the command of his mother. England was a united, stable, prosperous kingdom (apart from the Viking raids) whereas France was ruled by warlords who set up castles for their own defence and to terrorise and rule the peasantry; at this time the peasants declined from being fairly independent farmers to being robbed and taxed until they were forced to sell themselves into serfdom.

So actually it was a cracking read but still not as good as "Persian Fire".

September 2009, 413 pages