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

Thursday, 14 December 2017

"Chronicle of a Death Foretold" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This tiny novel is astonishing. Starts with a hook: “On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on.” (p 1) What a first line! But then it more or less meanders. The narrator is a man who had been friends with Santiago and, after a gap of twenty seven years, returns to the town and talks to all the people who were there, who remembered that day. And tries to understand. 

The killers didn't really want to kill him. It was an affair of honour. They told everyone what they were going to do in the hope that someone would stop them. So more or less the whole town knew what was going to happen. Except, until the last moment, the victim. Whom no one thought to tell.

This provides a theme sufficiently compelling to keep you going. This allows the author to explore. Exploration involves wandering, rambling, seeking out and turning back. This enables the author to poke his nose into so many aspects of how people live. He is forensic in his observations and he has the facility of turning the clarity of these observations into the exact right words. 

A classic. Wonderful.

  • To put the broken memory of mirror back together from so many scattered shards” (p 5) 
  • You won't have a drink of that water as long as I'm alive.” (p 8)
  • They'd placed the sick people in the archways to receive God's medicine.” (p 20)
  • “don't comb your hair at night; you'll slowdown seafarers.” (p 31)
  • a friend of a few drinks.” (p 42)
  • we were cast adrift over an abyss of uncertainty” (p 44)
  • Both were exhausted from the barbarous work of death.” (p 49)
  • She was certain that the Vicario brothers were not as anxious to fulfill the sentence as to find someone who would do them the favour of stopping them.” (p 57)
  • My sister the nun, who wasn’t going to wait for the bishop because she had an eighty-proof hangover.” (p 71)
  • On nights of high tide the toilets would back up and fish would appear flopping about in the bedrooms at dawn.” (p 89)
  • A poor woman devoted to the cult of her defects.” (p 93)
  • She told us about the miracle but not the saint.” (p 101)
December 2018; 122 pages

Monday, 11 December 2017

"Commonwealth" by Ann Patchett

This book starts slowly with the baptismal party for one-year-old Franny at which Bert, a friend of her father's, meets Beverley, her mother. Soon the two families have shuffled. In the summer Bert's four kids and Beverley's two kids holiday in Virginia, where Bert and Beverley now live. But B&B are neglectful parents and the six kids roam in the fields. Because Albie the youngest is such a pain they give him pills and gin to make him sleep while they have fun. Then tragedy strikes.

Years later Franny, haunted by her memories, meets a famous author and tells him the story of their life. Which becomes a best seller.

Shifting backwards and forwards in time, told from multiple points of view, this is a forensic dissection of families. Who'd be a mother after reading this?

It is a beautifully written book because of the compelling characters it creates and the the way the author dissects families with such ruthlessness and at the same time such compassion and these few lines below don't do it justice.

  • He looked like one of those gargoyles perched on a high corner of Notre Dame that's meant to scare the devil away.” (p 61)
  • Luggage: that which is to be lugged.” (p 72)
  • the bony protrusions of her vertebrae and clavicles were so clearly displayed she could have found work in an anatomy class.” (p 76)
  • In the summers they wandered out of the civilized world and into the early orphanage scenes of Oliver Twist.” (p 77)
  • The nuns had led her to believe that God gave preference to people who did things the hard way.” (p 125)
  • He rubbed his hands together to warm them up and then sank them deep into his pockets.” (p 135)
  • It made Albie want to take off his skin.” (p 171)
  • Life, Teresa knew by now, was a series of losses.” (p 245)
  • Theresa was shocked by the roaming idleness of her mind, as if she was sifting through trash on the side of the freeway and was stopped, enchanted, but every foil gum wrapper.” (p 290)

Patchett also wrote the wonderful Bel Canto, a faster paced book with less normality but a searingly passionate love story. I want to read more of this wonderful author.

December 2018; 322 pages

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

"Rabbit stew and a penny or two" by Maggie Smith-Bendell

A memoir of her childhood as a Romani Gypsy traveller on the road in the 1950s. They picked snowdrops and daffies and sold them door to door; they picked peas and beans for farmers; they bought and sold scrap metal. This is a fascinating record of that transient life including the hardships, the fights, the premature deaths.

There is quite a lot about the dreadful racism suffered by the Romanis and many of us house-dwellers should be ashamed of ourselves. There was one point on which I disagreed, however. During the Second World War Romani men (and their horses) might be conscripted. She seems to regard this as persecution. Of course, house-dwellers were also conscripted and it might be argued that the Romanis should have been exempted because the war was not being fought 'in their name'. Although, of course, the fate that Romanis suffered in Nazi Germany, where they were exterminated in gas camps, might suggest that at least to some degree the war was being fought 'for' them. Which brings us to an interesting 'social contract' type question: to what extent does a person who cuts themselves off from benefits from society nevertheless be obliged to contribute towards society?

There are some great stories. I found the funniest the one in which young Maggie, at school, played her first game of hockey. She understood the basics - you had to hit the ball with the stick - and ran up and down the pitch scoring goals. There was a commotion. The teacher pointed out that she should only score goals at one end because she was in a team. She hadn't understood the concept of teams.

Some great lines that possess sometimes a very different metaphor or perspective:

  • "A good, big fire would put the frost in its place wherever we  pulled in." (p 30)
  • They would go through the breeding of the horse, chamming [boasting] on for what seemed like hours.” (p 104)
  • I know what you’s like with the lush [alcohol] down your neck.” (p 111)
  • He got as drunk as a handcart.” (p 155)
  • We were not young enough to be put to bed, not old enough to be treated like adults.” (p 171)
  • If a stranger has come upon us they would’ve thought we'd been touched by the moon.” (p 186)
  • She would’ve laughed if her granny’s arse had caught fire.” (p 235)
  • To other travellers, my name became bigger than me body.” (p 250)
  • Retrospective was the new way forward!” (p 251)
  • I ... know me run as good as any rabbit in his warren.” (p 259)
Well told with some great stories, simply written. I could feel the pleasure in an outdoor way of life, knowing about badgers and pea plants, whilst at the same time regretting the hardships. I loved the integration of Romani words. But most of all I enjoyed her unique perspective on life.

December 2017; 276 pages

Sunday, 3 December 2017

"A dedicated man" by Peter Robinson

Set in a valley in the Yorkshire Dales, idyllic when the sun is shining, DCI Banks investigates the murder of a local historian amidst the usual crowd of suspects: the dead man's wife, an author of whodunnits, an internationally renowned and stunningly beautiful folk singer, the archaeologist's publisher, the medallion-wearing local entrepreneur who wanted to redevelop a field that was once a Roman camp, the folksinger's ex-Army father, the local doctor and a local religious nut. Everyone tells the police that the dead man had no enemies which is ipso facto untrue. Are the roots of the crime in the present day or ten years ago when some of the same characters gathered in the same places?

A well-written whodunnit with, mirabilis dictu, a happily married detective (pipe smoking, into opera and choral music, ex London).

Plenty of red herrings although I worked out whodunnit sometime before the end and it didn't seem to twist after that.

"The room was flickering with tiny bright flames that made the walls look like melting butter." (p 61)

December 2017; 288 pages