Sumptuous Secret

12:08 AM 24 SEPTEMBER 2016

An enchanting tale of children growing up in a private space unencumbered by the troubled and sometimes burdensome world of adults. Uplifting and heavy on the feel-good factor, beautifully written, a classic book for adults and children alike.

SOURCE: HTTP://WWW.GOODREADS.COM/REVIEW/SHOW/152114455

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Classic Adventure

11:48 PM 23 SEPTEMBER 2016

Wonderful classic novel of adventure and unadulterated escapism. As I was reading, the news was full of the latest activity in Icelandic volcanoes, which just seemed to add to the vivid descriptions crafted by Verne. Meanwhile the interplay between the key characters was both moving and intriguing. Quite a short book, the pace of the story is brisk, which fuels the incessant sense of excitement and perhaps a slight sense of guilt at a very sedentary life by comparison! In any event, a very satisfying read.

SOURCE: HTTP://WWW.GOODREADS.COM/REVIEW/SHOW/1521144597

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A Novel or a Series of Short Stories?

10:28 PM 23 SEPTEMBER 2016

I am a great fan of Sebastian Faulks work. Although we will all form attachments to particular books, he rarely disappoints and within the body of his work he has set the bar wonderfully high. However, as a ‘novel in five parts’, I’m not sure ‘A Possible Life’ works. The writing is superbly crafted and the sweep of the book is clearly ambitious, but seems most effective as five short stories. Certainly, for me the ‘novel’ is not greater than the sum of its parts, which is disappointing, but should not detract from the quality of the writing, which is at times sumptuous. I intend to read it again, in case I am doing the book an injustice, but I would encourage anyone to make the effort, in any case.

SOURCE: HTTP://WWW.GOODREADS.COM/REVIEW/SHOW/1521144712

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Not the Mountain, but the Climb

10:09 PM 23 SEPTEMBER 2016

The notion of a story about Elijah may not be an obvious choice for the secular majority. Yet, such is the depth and quality of the Brazilian’s writing that the author successfully draws the reader in and through this profound parable invites the curious to reflect on the path of his/her ‘Personal Legend’ and the various stages that living one’s own destiny entails. Moreover, how should one respond in the face of the ‘unavoidable’. As Coelho observes,”…the unavoidable has touched the life of every human being on the face of the earth. Some have rebounded, others have given up – but all of us have felt the wings of tragedy brushing against us.”

To illustrate the point, the novel is set in the year 870 B.C. in Phoenicia (latterly Lebanon) and relates the exploits of the prophet, Elijah, fleeing persecution in neighbouring Israel, at the hands of Phoenician, Princess Jezebel. Since childhood, Elijah had heard voices and conversed with angels, but the massacre of the prophets and direction by the Lord, caused him to to seek refuge in the city of Akbar. Notwithstanding Phoenicia had enjoyed a lengthy period of peace and prosperity, underpinned by strategic alliances and a talent for trade, the presence of an enemy of of their countrywoman, Jezebel, placed Elijah under a constant threat. Throw in that the Phoenicians’ worship of pagan gods inhabiting the Fifth Mountain, the threat of Akbar’s invasion by an Assyrian army and a love interest with a native citizen and the possibilities for conflict are manifold. Indeed, the story of Elijah is a study in resilience, determination, compassion and the positive power of love, as well as an examination of doubt, fear and corrupted morals, all of which beset the human experience over millenia.

Coelho’s gift is to invite the reader to gain inspiration from the story of Elijah, contemplate our own responses to the unavoidable and embrace the inevitable potential for learning and growth on our respective journeys. A very thought-provoking read.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Industrial Heart-lands

3:12 PM 18 SEPTEMBER 2016

Often described as an important/landmark novel, the story of members of the Morel family is a fascinating expose of period industrial working class life, made even more compelling through the author’s examination of the main character’s relationships. Lawrence consistently critiques social convention in his works and in this book covers the historic taboo of adultery and unmarried sex, but more importantly sheds light on the roles of women in society, juxtaposed with the male dominance of the period, born of paid work. Indeed the three central women in the novel – Mrs Morel (mother), Miriam and Clara (two lovers) are the stronger characters, albeit fatefully attached to the respective men in their lives. Still, their influence is testament to the dependence conferred upon son and lover. There is perhaps a suggestion that the emotional attachment of the female characters makes them potentially vulnerable to the whims of their male counterparts. However, in the most moving scenes, when Mrs Morel has to cope with the tragic loss of her eldest son, it is the contrasting ineptitude and emotional confusion of her husband that elevates the matriarchal figure to new heights of superiority and dominance. Overall a wonderfully thought-provoking read, which rightly sits among a select collection of books that might be labelled as ‘important’.

SOURCE: HTTP://WWW.GOODREADS.COM/BOOK/SHOW/17567570-SONS-AND-LOVERS

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Great Heights to Unnecessary Depths

11:31 PM 12 SEPTEMBER 2016

Any contemporary story set (even partly) in Afghanistan runs the risk of appearing bleak, at least to western eyes. However, in spite of a sobering glimpse of life under the talaiban, it is Hosseini’s examination of a series of overlapping relationships, which reveals the frailty of man and the attendant capacity for tragedy.

At the outset, the narrator, Amir, is aged just twelve and has a close relationship with Hassan, the son of his father’s servant. The characters are all subject to a social structure which ensures they know their respective places (Pashtun are the dominant tribe locally, while the Hassari are commonly regarded as inferior) but privately such boundaries are blurred. That is, until an incident witnessed by Amir challenges his ability to openly support his erstwhile friend. Amir and his ‘Baba’ are members of an elite class, but following the death of his mother, giving him birth, Amir grows up feeling distant from his father and desperate for his affection. However, he is no ‘chip off the old block’. Baba is charismatic and courageous, a stalwart of Afghan society and Amir’s sense of inadequacy is fuelled by the very positive attributes shown by Hassan and admired by his father.

Kite flying, we learn, is an important pastime in Kabul culture and offers an interesting metaphor for life in the differing strata, contrasting the fliers with those subject to gravity, scrabbling for victory among the ‘also rans’. Ironically, it is with Hassan’s encouragement and help, Amir is able to excel at flying and inspire pride in his father. In a touching show of loyalty, Hassan even seeks to run down the last defeated kite in a kite-battling festival, to seal a memorable triumph for his friend. Yet, the euphoria is short-lived.

In an impulsive and childish act, Amir deliberately sweeps Hassan aside, but in so doing unleashes a lifelong sense of personal guilt, magnified by the dignified self-sacrifice of his victim. In spite of everything, Hassan, by fluke of birth a member of the lowly Hassari tribe, demonstrates a superior magnanimity and notwithstanding the consequent prospect of destitution, stoically accepts the betrayal.

Fast forward, and the overthrow of the royal family by the forces of extreme Islam and with it the social order that has secured their privileged positions, sees Baba and Amir flee Afghanistan.

In the USA, notwithstanding their attendant poverty, Baba exhibits the drive to start again, though father and son are sustained by the cultural traditions preserved in the local Afghan community. Still, there is an inevitability in the need for Amir, the young man, to be confronted with circumstances in which he must return to his birthplace and seek to atone.

This book is clearly well written and offers an interesting insight into Afghan society , both home and abroad. However, there is also the troubling spectre of child abuse, which is explicitly referenced and to my mind, diminishes the narrative. Not because it challenges some taboo, but rather it adds little value to the story and gives the impression that it has been included for gratuitous shock impact. Moreover, in the context of the book, such behaviour only occurs on foreign soil and could be construed as symptomatic of an inferior society, which given western trials of recent years, seems more than a little hypocritical. I acknowledge it could be argued that this may be a courageous addition on the part of the author, but on balance, for me, it detracts from an otherwise compelling read.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Gentleman’s gentleman

5:25 PM 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

The classic meanderings of Bertie Wooster and his long-suffering manservant Jeeves are so quintessentially English and laugh-out-loud funny that every library should own one. P.G.Wodehouse’s iconic creations are so creatively intertwined and the language so florid that the stories evoke a wondrously different era of gentlemen, gentlemen’s clubs and formidable matriarchs. Wotto Bertie!!

SOURCE: HTTP://WWW.GOODREADS.COM/REVIEW/SHOW/1521144978

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Chatwin’s wanderlusting

5:09 PM 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

This rather eclectic collection of Chatwin’s writings is simply a great read and a suitable homage to his craft. The breadth of his travel and experience is made to seem almost ordinary, when clearly the writer was anything but. This was my first reading of Chatwin and was purely by chance that the book came my way, but what a feast of language to savour. Must be serendipity.

SOURCE: HTTP://WWW.GOODREADS.COM/REVIEW/SHOW/1521145124

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Happiness is….?

5:01 PM 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

A thoroughly interesting read this was my first dip into the work of Paul Dolan and though it was consistent with what I might have anticipated from a professor at one of our leading academic institutions (assiduously researched and referenced), it was also written in an engaging style that kept the readers attention. Offering some fascinating insights into the components of ‘happiness’, this book enables an individual audit of one’s own happiness and a means to attend more effectively to what matters. At the very least, Dolan encourages reflection on one’s ‘happiness production process’ and suggests that we have the potential to self-promote a greater sense of happiness. A substantial claim, but worth the investment of the time to read and make up one’s own mind.

SOURCE: HTTP://WWW.GOODREADS.COM/REVIEW/SHOW/1521145238

Rating: 4 out of 5.

‘O’ level debate

4:44 PM 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

This was one of my course books at school and we pored over the adventures of ‘Fiver’ and ‘Bigwig’, et al and the underlying social systems of the respective burrows. It was one of those classroom unknowns, but discussed at length, whether it was the author’s intention to provide a critique of democracy vs authoritarian rule, or simply a children’s adventure book to be enjoyed.
It was not until my thirties that I was able to get a definitive answer from the author, Richard Adams. I was lucky enough to live for a time in the same village, not far from the legendary down and was invited round for tea. Of course, I had to satisfy my curiosity, but it was quite a relief to learn that it can be enjoyed as simply a classic piece of fiction and the news did not diminish it one jot!

SOURCE: HTTP://WWW.GOODREADS.COM/BOOK/SHOW/10258076

Rating: 4 out of 5.