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

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

"The hundred year old man who climbed out of a window and disappeared" by Jones Jonasson

100 year old Allan runs away from his nursing home. Theft and murder ensue. He meets new friends. Parallel to this picaresque adventure we are told the equally picaresque story of Allan's life, involving world travel, Truman, Churchill, Stalin, Mao and de Gaulle and explaining Allan's pivotal if unacknowledged role in many of the major events of the twentieth century.

The century (and Allan's life) start in 1905. I don't think it is coincidence that this is when Albert Einstein published his Special Theory of Relativity. Indeed, Einstein's dim half-brother and the atom bomb are both central to Allan's tale.

So in some ways this novel is a satirical view of the events of the twentieth century. In other ways it seems to be an ironic version of Voltaire's Candide. Whilst Candide features violent (apparent) death and resurrection,   The hundred year old man features violent death and (apparent) resurrection. Where Lisbon is destroyed in Candide, Vladivostok is destroyed in The hundred year old man. Both describe near-impossible events in mundane, matter-of-fact prose. In Candide the motto of Dr Pangloss is 'All is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds'; this is Voltaire's most sarcastic irony as he piles disaster on disaster. Allan's motto is 'Things are what they are, and whatever will be will be' which enables Allan to endure castration, repeated incarceration and several death penalties with Panglossian sang froid.

But although this book is equally entertaining it does not have the philosophical depth which makes Candide great literature.


Friday, 21 September 2012

"1000 things to do in London for under £10" by Time Out Guides

Not just the obvious things: museums and the cheaper types of entertainment such as poetry reading. This guide also has the eclectic from walking across the bridges to playing chess in Holland Park to posing nude as a life model to riding the buses to watching non-league football to playing fives to eating ice cream to ringing church bells....
Imaginative and inspirational. September 2012; 309 pages.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

"The making of modern Britain" by Andrew Marr

Brilliant. Andrew Marr charts the influences that have made us what we are by recounting weird and bizarre incidents.

He starts by explaining that in pre-WW1 Britain it was so easy to buy guns that when in the Tottenham Outrage of 1904 the unarmed police were chasing armed anarchists they borrowed guns from passers by. In the 1930s Oswald Mosley seeks funding for his fascists from the Jewish owners of Marks and Spencer. When his Blackshirts get political uniforms banned the Greenshirts (the political wing of the folk-dancing tendency) march carrying their green shirts aloft on coat hangers. Sculptor Eric Gill (famed for Ariel at the BBC and Gill Sans) enjoyed all sorts of sex including homosexuality, incest and bestiality. Earl Marshall Haig's 1928 funeral was attended by more people than Princess Diana's.

At every turn Marr amuses and then upends your prejudices about this fascinating era. Brilliant. September 2012; 429 pages.

"The child in time" by Ian McEwan

The typical McEwan tale begins with some earth-shattering event; the novel is then devoted to chronicling the  consequences that ripple out from this. In the same way, the hero's daughter (writer of children's fiction Stephen Lewis) is stolen from a supermarket. McEwan charts the bereavement of the young parents as it destroys their relationship and their lives.

But for once McEwan has sub-plots. Why has successful Charles Darke, Stephen's publisher and best friend, suddenly left a promising ministerial career? What is the point of the subcommittee of the Official Commission on Childcare on which Stephen sits?And how did Stephen see into the past when he looked through a pub window to see his parents thirty years ago?

The book, set in a dystopian near future, attempts to portray childhood from a number of perspectives and plays with the perception of time. An adult acting like a schoolboy climbs a tree. School is an exercise in pointless regimentation. The Official Commission hears crackpot views about learning to read. Stephen buys toys for his missing child's birthday. Thelma, wife and maybe mother figure to Charles Darke, tries to explain to Stephen a modern Physics perspective on time.

I struggled to find a unifying sense to all this. Was it a retelling of the Faust legend, seen from outside the bedevilled doctor? Charles Darke (is there a clue in his name?) acquires riches, then power, then seemingly everlasting youth. Or is there a theme of everything sliding from organisation into chaos (the entropic direction for the arrow of time)? The loss of his daughter drives Stephen from a stable life to a whisky soaked squalor. There are licensed beggars on the streets. The weather is becoming worse, floods succeeding droughts. Stephen drives from gridlocked London to a forested countryside; gates are hidden by tangles of jungle. On one journey a lorry crashes. But just when things seem to have utterly disintegrated, order slowly returns. The spat at the Olympics nearly develops into nuclear war but doesn't and the Olympics continue. The lorry driver emerges from his wrecked vehicle more or less unhurt. Stephen begins to study classical Arabic and tennis as his life gets back on track.Is this another theme? Although entropy seems to increase there are localised areas in which order prevails? And death is followed by birth.

I was confused by the plot but the prose is luscious. September 2012; 220 pages

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

"The good soldier" by Ford Madox Ford

A rich, leisured American couple meet a rich English couple at a German spa. Very Henry James. I meandered through the first few chapters feeling that this was a gentle Victorian novel.

Then, in a sentence, you becomes aware of hideous tensions between the couples. Two of them are having an affair. And the facades of respectability are repeatedly stripped away.

With that sentence the novel lurches into the twentieth century. The rambling narration shifts up and down through time and makes little mistakes and claims unlikely innocence. Those who seem weakest turn out to be deceitful, those who are wronged turn out to be manipulative. Adultery, violent death and madness lurk just beneath the surface.

The book grips you till the end. At the end I wanted to start again.

Possibly the best book I have read this year.

The Title Page calls it The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion and contains the epigram Beati Immaculati which means Blessed are the Undefiled and comes from the first words of Psalm 119.

Part One introduces us to the characters

Part One Chapter One is a trailer full of teasers.
"This is the saddest story I have ever heard." (p 9) The narrator, an American named Dowell from Philadelphia has for nine seasons being going to Nauheim, a spa town, for the sake of his wife, "poor dear Florence", who has a bad heart. Each year they meet an English couple,Captain Ashburnham and his wife Laura. The Captain also has a bad heart (from too much polo) although just one month at the spa sets him up for the year. "Our intimacy was like a minuet, simply because on every possible occasion and in every possible circumstance we knew where to go, where to sit, which table we should unanimously choose" (p 11). A minuet is a stately dance from the French court and is associated with Bacjh and Handel; it is for two people and not exactly passionate.

Throughout this first chapter the narrator is dropping hints that something has gone wrong. This has left him shocked. Because, at least at the start, he was innocent. "I had never sounded the depths of an English heart. I had known the shallows." (p 9) "I know nothing ... of the hearts of men. I only know that I am alone - horribly alone."

He compares what he has witnessed to the "sack of Rome by the Goths"or "the falling to pieces of a people"; he now realises that "it wasn't a minuet that we stepped; it was a prison - a prison full of screaming hysterics, tied down so that they might not outsound the rolling of our carriage wheels." (p 11)

He thought he had Florence always in his sight. "But how can she have known what she knew? How could she have got to know it? To know it so fully. Heavens! There doesn't seem to have been the actual time."

He is shocked at what he knows now of the hearts of women. Mrs Ashburnham "only this afternoon" {presumably after the nine years have been finished} has told him that she once nearly had a lover. He wonders whether what she tells him was "the remark of a harlot, or is it what every decent woman - county family or not county family - thinks at the bottom of her heart? ... Perhaps this is what all mothers teach all daughters, not with lips but with the eyes, or with heart whispering to heart." (p 13)

Men tell one another "gross tales" yet "Edward Ashburnham was the cleanest-looking sort of chap" who didn't even like hearing rough talk. "You would have said that he was just exactly the sort of chap that you could have trusted your wife with. And I trusted mine, and it was madness"(p 14)

So the narrator is an innocent fool. "Am I no better than a eunuch or is the proper man ... a raging stallion forever neighing after his neighbour's womankind?" (p 14) {I love the pair of neighs}

So we know that we are in for a shocking sex scandal and we know that the narrator is an innocent holy fool.

Part One Chapter Two
The narrator doesn't know whether he should tell this tale as a story, or verbatim as he heard it from Mrs A, or from Captain A. We have here a modernist author's concern with the form itself.

This chapter introduces us to his "poor dear wife". The number of times he uses this epithet (or words to that effect) about her is remarkable. He treats her throughout as an invalid. And yet the impression we get is of a vivacious a lively girl, restless, always wanting to do and see something new, always wanting to learn, while he sees no need to do anything. He languishes in her wake. But she is the invalid. He says.

He talks about how he travelled the world with Florence [who is a graduate of Poughkeepsie, presumable Vassar College, one of the seven all-female Ivy League colleges, which was founded in 1861 and was the first US college to give women degrees]. Because she could take in a place with a single glance the two of them have never been to the same place twice [he doesn't point out that the exception must have been Nauheim] so "the whole world for me is like spots of colour in an immense canvas. Perhaps, if it weren't so, I should have something to catch hold of now." (p 16) They had a wonderful life and Florence was "bright, and she danced. ... And my function in life was to keep that bright thing in existence. And it was almost as difficult as trying to catch with your hand that dancing reflection. And the task lasted for years." (p 16)

Florence is obviously intelligent and interested in discussing important topics ("she always wanted to leave the world a little more elevated than she found it" p 17) and sparkling and the narrator sees his job as keeping her calm and thinking about dull topics "I was solemnly informed that if she became excited over anything or if her emotions were really stirred her little heart might cease to beat." (p 17)

Although Florence  wasn't romantic at all she loves a story about a mad French troubadour from the Middle Ages who fell in love with the chatelaine of the Four Castles and how her husband was forced to "kneel down and kiss his feet" and spend a lot of money looking after him and tell the world that "it was not proper to treat a great poet with indifference" even though the husband "was a most ferocious warrior" (p 18) Here we are introducing the theme of the complacent cuckold.

After Florence has died the narrator receives a telegram from Captain A asking him to come to England to talk. And then another telegram from Mrs A. And when he gets there in the beautiful New Forest "The girl was out with the hounds, I think. And that poor devil beside me was in an agony. Absolute, hopeless, dumb agony, such as passes the mind of man to imagine." (p 20)

Part One Chapter Three introduces the Captain.
If the last chapter repeated "poor, dear", this chapter reiterates "perfectly".

We have come to Nauheim. “To be at Nauheim gave me a sense - what shall I say? - a sense almost of nakedness - the nakedness that one feels on the seashore or in any great open space.” (p 20 - 21) Every day at Nauheim “ I would walk with Florence to the baths ... And when she came to the door of the bathing place, and when it opened to receive her, she would look back at me with a little coquettish smile, so that her cheek appeared to be caressing her shoulder ... And what the devil! For whose benefit did she do it? For that of the bath attendant? of the passers-by? I don't know. Anyhow, it can't have been for me, for never, in all the years of her life, never on any possible occasion, or in any other place, did she so smile to me, mockingly, invitingly. Ah, she was a riddle - but then, all other women are riddles.” (p 22)

Nauheim was a boring, empty place until the Captain and his wfe came. Now we start to describe the Captain. He is a bit of a poseur: “I verily believe that he had his black smoking jacket thickened a little over the shoulder blades so as to give himself the air of the slightest possible stoop.” (p 23 ) There are hints throughout that this man, like Florence, is not straightforward. “I have forgotten about his eyes. ... when you looked at them carefully you saw that they were perfectly honest, perfectly straight forward, perfectly, perfectly stupid. But the brick pink of his complexion, running perfectly level to the brick pink of his inner eyelids, gave them a curious, sinister expression.” (p 25)

The Captain is attractive to women. “He would have plenty to gurgle about to a woman ... and with his intense, optimistic belief that the woman he was making love to at the moment was the one who was destined, at last, to be eternally constant to ... well, I fancy he could put up a pretty good deal of talk when there was no man around to make him feel shy.” (p 25) “And that chap, coming into a room, snapped up the gaze of every woman in it, as dextrously as a conjurer pockets billiard balls.” (p 25)

The narrator now describes the first time he saw the Captain.The narrator is at his table ready for dinner waiting for his wife when the Captain comes into the restaurant and sits at a nearby table. The narrator knows who the Captain is because he checks the hotel register every day. And now the narrator is obviously staring at this man’s face. “Suddenly I saw two distinct expressions flicker across his immobile eyes. How the deuce did they do it, those unflinching blue eyes with the direct gaze? for the eyes themselves never moved, gazing over my shoulder towards the screen. And the gaze was perfectly level and perfectly direct and perfectly unchanging. I suppose that the lids really must have rounded themselves a little and perhaps the lips moved a little too, as if he should be saying: ‘There you are, my dear’. At any rate, the expression was that of pride, of satisfaction of the possessor.” (p 26) But then he seems to say “It might ... just be done”. And the narrator looks round and sees two women: “tall, smiling brilliantly and buoyant - Leonora. And, little and fair, and as radiant as the track of sunlight along the sea - my wife.” (p 26)

There is trouble with the tables so Florence suggests they all sit together, saying "And so the whole round table is begun" (is this a hint of Lancelot poaching Guinevere?)

Part One Chapter Four
"But these things have to be done: it is the cock that the whole of this society owes to Aesculapius." (p 31) The last words of Socrates when he was dying of hemlock poisoning were "we owe a cock to Aesculapius [the God of Healing]". Perhaps FMF is hinting that the society is in its dying days. The book was published in 1915 and they are in a German spa and they are friends with the Grand Duke of Nassau Schwerin who is uncle to "the Emperor" [the Kaiser who will be the enemy in the coming war].

The narrator tells us that he spent nine years meeting the Captain and his wife and never really got to know them. The politeness of society got in the way. As soon as they met they assumed that they were good sorts and therefore liked their beef "underdone but not too underdone" (p 29) etc. "And the odd, queer thing is that the whole collection of rules applies to anybody - to the anybodies that you meet in hotels, in railway trains, to a less degree, perhaps, in steamers, but even, in the end, upon steamers. You meet a man or a woman and, from tiny and intimate sounds, from the smallest of movements, you know at once whether you are concerned with good people or with those who won't do.  ... But the inconvenient - well, hang it all, I will say it - the damnable nuisance of the whole thing is that with all the taking for granted, you never really get an inch deeper than the things I have catalogued." (p 31)

He now describes a trip they took together. Florence organised it. "Florence was at that time engaged in educating Captain Ashburnham - oh, of course, quite pour le bon motif [with the best intentions]" (p 32) and was cross with Leonora, who appeared to know everything already [which clearly irks Florence], for not telling her husband all these things. "the Captain was quite evidently enjoying being educated by Florence. She used to do it about three or four times a week under the approving eyes of Leonora and myself. ... It was Florence clearing up one of the dark places of the earth." (p 33) The place they go is where the castle ruler had "three wives at once and formed an alliance with the gentleman that had six wives, one after the other (I'm not really interested in these facts, but they have a bearing on my story)." (p 35) Florence is doing her whole tour guide bit about Luther having slept in the bedroom and the piece of paper in the glass case being the Protest after which they are Protestants and if it wasn't for that ...

"you'd be like the Irish or the Italians or the Poles, but particularly the Irish ...
And she laid one finger upon Captain Ashburnham's wrist.
I was aware of something treacherous, something frightful, something evil in the day. ... In Ashburnham's face I know that there was absolute panic. I was horribly frightened and then I discovered that the pain in my left wrist was caused by Leonora's clutching it.
I can't stand this, she said with a most extraordinary passion. I must get out of this." (p 36)

The four of them flee the room. The narrator is (again) "horribly frightened" and doesn't understand: how can Leonora be "jealous of Florence and Captain Ashburnham, of all people in the world!" Leonora asks "Don't you see that that's the cause of the whole miserable affair, of the whole sorrow of the world? And of the eternal damnation of you and me and them ..." and she looks like "a person looking into the pit of hell and seeing horrors there" and then suddenly she is all right again and tells the narrator that she is an Irish Catholic.

Part One Chapter 5:
starts with “Those words gave me the greatest relief that I have ever had in my life. They told me, almost more than I have ever gathered at any one moment - about myself.” (p 37) which make little sense. The wonder of this first part is the many inconsistencies in the narrator's attitude. He tells us nothing straight-forwardly and there are 'errors' throughout. We have just discovered that Leonora is an "Irish Catholic" but ten pages later he calls her an "English Catholic". This is a labyrinth!

The narrator now tells us that he is obsessed with looking after is invalid heart patient wife “For in Florence I had at once a wife and an unattained mistress - this is what it comes to - and in the retaining of her in this world I had my occupation, my career, my ambition.” (p 39) I'm not quite sure why Florence is an unattained mistress: is he saying that he has never consummated the marriage?  I suppose there is a deal of metaphor in all this 'heart trouble'.

Now we find out that Captain A is a serial adulterer. "There was nothing the matter with Edward Ashburnham’s heart - that he had thrown up his commission and had left India and come half the world over in order to follow a woman. ... that was the sort of sentimental ass he was” and then he reveals that Captain A had once “kissed a servant girl in a railway train” and nearly been jailed for “years and years”. (p 39)

The narrator still thinks of Captain A as a “poor devil”, a “luckless devil”. “I have the right to say it, since for years he was my wife's lover, since he killed her ... There is no priest that has the right to tell me that I must not ask pity for him ... from the God who created in him those desires, those madnesses ...” (pp 39 - 40) Now at last it is out in the open. Captain A was his wife's lover.

Now we discover that Mrs M, the “Dear little dark woman with long lashes” whom Captain A followed from India, “died quite quietly - of heart trouble.” (p 40) She was very young and had a young husband. And as she was dying Captain A left her for Florence: “It would have left a better taste in the mouth if Florence had let her die in peace.” (p 41) Florence is not goody two shoes.
Florence discovered that Captain A was up for extra-marital hanky panky when Leonora found Mrs M outside her husband’s hotel room she hit her and it was then that Florence encountered them and discovered that Captain A played away although L tried to pretend that nothing had happened.

Now the narrator says he loves Leonora and he does not believe “that poor little Maisie Maidan was ever Edward's mistress. Her heart was really so bad that she would have succumbed to anything like an impassioned embrace ... She was really what the other two, for reasons of their own, just pretended to be.” (p 42) Presumably (and it is all guess work with this devious story) this means that both Captain A and Florence's heart problems are pretended. We soon find out that this is the case with the Captain.

Now we learn about the problems Leonora faces. Leonora reads Edward’s letters: “Edwards’s affairs were in such a frightful state and he lied so about them that she claimed the privilege of having his secrets at her disposal ... the poor fool was too ashamed of his lapses ever to make a clean breast of anything.” (p 43) She discovered that he had blown £20k on one woman in a week and in the same week lost £40k at the casino. He then had an affair with a brother officer’s wife and was being blackmailed by the husband. And he was over-generous in forgiving his tenants’ rents and doing the noblesse oblige. So she had to sort things out to keep him financially afloat. Because as an “English Catholic” (p 47) she couldn’t divorce him. And she saw Mrs M as someone who wouldn’t “rook Edward” so “It was Leonora herself who paid Maisie’s expenses to Nauheim. She handed over the money to the boy husband, for Maisie would never have allowed it, but the husband was the agonies of fear. Poor devil!” So when she discovered the blackmailing letter with its threat that all the financial problems were going to start up again and the realisation that her husband was never going to reform, Leonora lost it.

So that when they went on their trip (which was the day Mrs M died) the naive (or is he) narrator apologises for his wife’s teasing of Catholics by saying: “Do accept the situation. I confess that I don't like your religion. But I like you so intensely. I don't mind saying that I have never had anyone to be really fond of, and I do not believe anyone has ever been fond of me, as I believe you ready to be.” (p 51) And L says she is fond of him and then, throwing a bit of rock over the wall says that she accepts the situation “if you can.” (p 52)

Part One Chapter 6
The narrator, protesting “all that time, I was just a male sick nurse. And what chance had I against those 3 hardened gamblers, who are all in league”, begins to get theological; he, the deceived husband, is neither in heaven nor in hell but in Limbo, he supposes, conjuring up a Catholic concept, speaking the lines of the Latin Catholic mass. He imagines an immense plane which is the hand of God on which are Edward and Loonora clasped together and Florence on her own. “At the thought of that intense solitude I feel an overwhelming desire to rush forwards and comfort her. You cannot, you see, have acted as nurse to a person for twelve years without wishing to go on nursing them, even though you hate them with the hatred of the adder ... I hate Florence with such a hatred that I would not spare her an eternity of loneliness ... She should not have done it. She should not have done it. ... whilst she was Edward's mistress, she was perpetually trying to reunite him to his wife. She would gabble on to Leonora about forgiveness ... and Leonora would treat her like the whore she was.” (pp 53 - 54)

Coming back from their excursion Leonora is given a letter from Maisie in which she reveals that she overheard Florence and the Captain and discovered first that he no longer loved her and second that Leonora had paid for her to come to Nauheim, including the lines “You should not have done it, and we out of the same convent.” Leonora seeks Maisie but finds her in her room, dead. Not suicide. Her heart gave out. Edward “imagined that the death had been the most natural thing in the world. He soon got over it. Indeed, it was the one affair of his about which he never felt much remorse.” (p 57)

And that, with that curtain, is the end of Part One.

Part Two Chapter 1
We discover that the narrator, wooing Florence in New England, was so desperate to marry her ("I was like a chicken that is determined to get across the road in front of an automobile") that he misunderstood the family's hints that she was not suitable to marry ("they almost brought themselves to say that Florence's early life had been characterized by flirtations") and eloped with her. She made it clear she had a bad heart but on their first voyage across the Atlantic she stayed in her cabin and the doctors persuaded him not to attempt sexual relations so the marriage was never consummated. Then they got to Paris and were met by Jimmy, a young lad who has accompanied her on her last tour of Europe, and she had her own room and locked the door and ... was Jimmy's mistress. Until she met Edward Ashburnham.

Once when Leonora tackled Florence about her behaviour towards the narrator "she excused herself on the score of an overmastering passion. Well, I always say that an overmastering passion is a good excuse for feelings. You cannot help them. And it is a good excuse for straight actions ... No, I do not think that there is much excuse for Florence." (p 64)

Part Two Chapter 2
The narrator realises that Florence led Captain A a merry dance as well. She threatened him with a scene and only desisted when he made it clear that a divorced woman would never be accepted into English society.

Then one night, after a young girl, a friend of Captain and Mrs A had arrived at the hotel, and after the Captain and the girl (Nancy Rufford) had gone off together, Leonora sent Florence after them as a 'chaperone'. Later the narrator sees his wife Florence, the one who supposedly has a bed heart, racing down the street. And a new gurst in the hotel tells him that the last time he saw "Florry Hurlbird ... she was coming out out of the bedroom of a young man named Jimmy at five o'clock in the morning. In my house at Ledbury." (p 75) When the narrator dragged himself up to their suite he found that, "for the first time of our married life" her bedroom door is unlocked. And she is lying on the bed, dead, "a little phial that rightly should have contained nitrate of amyl, in her right hand" (p 76)

And that is the curtain for Act Two.

Part Three Chapter 1
The narrator now tells us that the same evening he said that he might marry the girl, Nancy. And that it was not until he talked to Mrs A after the Captain's death (that is, just before writing this story) that Leonora told him that Florence had committed suicide. He had supposed it was her heart with an attack of angina, exhausted by the run. But Leonora told him that the flask didn't contain amyl nitrate but prussic acid.

Florence had gone after Captain A and Nancy and overheard them as they were sitting on a lonely bench, as Edward professed his love for Nancy. So she had run away, And then seen Bagshawe and known her other secret was about to be revealed. And so decided to end it all. Because she was vain. "It is vanity that makes most of us keep straight, if we do keep straight, in this world." (p 86)


Part Three Chapter 2
This chapter describes Nancy Rufford, a convent educated girl whose soldier father battered her mother, who came to live with Leonora after that mother's death. Again the narrator tells us unreliable things and things out of order. Thus, he says "Florence made the girl go to bed at ten" when he presumably means Leonora because in the previous paragraph he has been describing Florence's death. And earlier he has talked about how beautiful Nancy's neck was and said: "And to think that she will never ... Why, she will never do anything again. I can't believe it." But this must mean that Nancy is dead. Can we believe it?

Part Three Chapter 3
Now we are told about Leonora's childhood in Ireland as one of seven sisters and how her parents, fearing like Mrs Bennett that unmarried girls spelt financial ruin, invited Edward and his parents to stay. This marriage, so business-like in its genesis, developed into full on love from Leonora. But not Edward. We are told about their early married life when the main point of contention was that Edward kept being too generous so their finances were strained and that they didn't have any children. But the chapter ends with the story of what happened on the train.

Part Three Chapter 4

After the train incident Edward became besotted with women. He next gets involved at Nauheim with the mistress of the Grand Duke who wants only money so Edward gambles and loses heavily.

The narrator on the other hand is so rich he almost forgets about money.
"a dollar can be extremely desirable if you don't happen to possess one." (p 110)
"all I wanted to do there was just to satisfy myself that the houses were in good repair and the doors kept properly painted." (p 111) by which the narrator reveals that he is much more concenred with the outer appearance of things.


Part Three Chapter 5

Leonora mortgages the house, rents it out and she and Edward go to Burma to serve in the regiment where he comes involved with Major Basil's wife, succumbing to a little mild blackmail from the Majhor, and then Maisie Madden. He avoids getting sent to the Boer war even though "it would have done him a great deal of good to get killed." (p 122)At this stage Leonora has paid off their debts and proposes that they go home, but she pays for Maisie to come with them to stay at Nauheim.

Leonora's position is interesting. She is the wife, taking charge of her husband's finanacial affairs and bankrolling his romantic affairs. And she sticks with him. Why? "Why, she asked herself again and again, did none of the good deeds that she did for her husband ever come through to him, or appear to him as good deeds?" (p 128) She's doing the solid stuff and he time and again betrays her with others.


 


 August 2012; 179 pages

Saturday, 1 September 2012

"Outrage" by Arnaldur Indridason

Elinborg is a typical Reykjavik lady detective. With one failed marriage behind her she lives with her partner, Teddi, and their three children (eldest, a boy, is on the internet all the time and suffering teenage angst, youngest, a girl, is very gifted) whom she hardly ever sees because she works too hard. She has written a cook book.

 Every detail of her life is told to us in the stark prose of this latest exponent of Scandinavian noire.

In fact Indridason doesn't believe in the 'show, don't tell' principle of fiction. His prose is simple, flat and sterile. I have no idea what Elinborg looked like because the author doesn't really do description. The victim dresses in "black jeans, white shirt and a comfortable jacket"; neither description nor character are allowed to get in the way of the plot.

Compared to this book, Agatha Christie's characters are living, breathing and multi-dimensional.

It is a pleasant enough yarn. It rattles on. There is not the sense of clues being carefully dropped into the prose, each revelation is expected as it comes.

I was most interested in this book because I have been to both Reykjavik and Akranes but I think I might write with more local flavour having known Iceland for a whole five days.

Potboiler. September 2012; 386 pages