The Mayfly by James Hazel

The Mayfly (1) The Mayfly (buy here on Amazon) 

(If you wish to skip the review – but why would you?! Then please scroll down to see an author interview which gives a fascinating insight into the writing of this novel.)

Review: 

Every crime fiction series of note that has lasted the test of time has one essential element – a protagonist that the reader can believe in.  A character who will intrigue and with whom we will empathize and wish to see succeed in his mission.  Charlie Priest, the ex-detective inspector turned successful London lawyer, more than ticks these boxes.

The novel follows a complex storyline with many interweaving plot lines, but it is so well structured as to make it easy to follow.  The novel jumps between the present day and a second but equally strong story line that takes place at the end of World War II, involving another complex character – that of Colonel Bertie Ruck.

Bertie Ruck is investigating a Dr Schneider, a Nazi doctor, who was responsible for experimenting on and poisoning prisoners during the war.  The sinister element of the novel begins here and never falters, as Ruck’s life and that of Dr Schneider form an essential part of the modern-day dilemma in which Priest finds himself.

From the start both storylines steam ahead without ever flagging.  However, this is no flimsy action- packed thriller without substance.  For what separates Hazel’s book from many lesser crime fiction novels is the attention to detail and depth of his characters.  Each character is vividly portrayed, as we delve deeply into their world and find ourselves rooting for some and detesting others in equal measure.

Charlie Priest has a family.  His brother William is in a psychiatric ward after committing several murders.  Charlie has not given up on him and visits him once a month.  Charlie suffers from dissociation disorder which means he can suddenly find himself disconnected from reality and unaware of his actions or what is going on around him.  This vulnerability enables him to empathize somewhat with his brother.  For although he can never condone his brother’s actions, he can understand to some extent what it is to be completely out of control of your own mind.

Charlie’s sister Sarah has not been able to come to terms with Will’s actions.  She has wiped all traces of him from her life, but is a strong support to her brother Charlie and is always there for him.  Her daughter Tilly enables us to see Charlie’s softer side when he interacts with his niece.

The family of Charlie and his colleagues at the law firm Priest and Co enable us to anchor the characters in a real setting, so that when the narrative hits the points where we have to suspend our belief, we can still believe in Charlie and his family and friends.

The central theme at the heart of the novel is the evil perpetrated not just during World War II, but by modern day sociopaths who seek fulfilment at any cost.  The story begins with an intruder to Charlie Priest’s house, the step son of a man who runs a large pharmaceutical organization. The intruder is desperately seeking a data memory stick with names on it, about which Priest knows nothing. This episode is only the first step in a complicated investigation that will take all of Priest’s abilities to solve.

The title of the Mayfly is beautifully interwoven into the narrative and takes on a deep significance as the story unfolds.   As the body count mounts, so does the tension, added to the desperate search for the USB stick and the question of its significance.

Fortunately, Charlie has some very smart colleagues to help him.  The smartest, and the heroine of this novel is the intriguing and lovely Georgie Someday.  Smart, sassy and addicted to the thrill of the chase, she is Priest’s right-hand woman and is there for him every step of the way.   As a woman character I loved her grit, her tenacity and her fearlessness.  Yet she reveals enough flaws and weaknesses to make her human.   Whether her last name is a cheeky teaser by the author remains to be seen, but she is too good a character to leave out of future books in my opinion.

The two parallel stories grow in intensity and the level of fear ratchets up as the novel progresses.  The references to the horrors carried out during World War II by Nazi doctors are horrific, and give an insight into the terrifying evils that were perpetrated during the war.  James Hazel pulls no punches and the reader is left in no doubt as to the lengths to which humans will go to satisfy their depravity, all in the name of a completely perverted and utterly warped belief system.

If there was the rare occasion when people seem to coincidentally have the information that Priest required (Sandra Barnsdale for one) it is easy to forgive, given the complexity of the overall plot and the number of characters and storylines.

The final chapters are chilling and thrilling. James Hazel creates utter spine chilling fear with just a few short sentences:

‘Can you scream….?’ He whispered softly.  ‘Can you scream? I hope so.  Because people have paid me a lot of money to hear you scream tonight?’   (I removed the name so as not to give any spoilers.)

This is a heart thumping page turner with a difference.  It has depth.  The characters are brilliantly portrayed and the narrative is beautifully paced and written with intelligence and heart.

I believe there is to be a second novel featuring Charlie Priest. He will be a character who will win a legion of fans for James Hazel, and deservedly so.    A heart stopping, intelligent crime novel.  Most definitely one to watch.

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Interview with the Author: James Hazel:

  1. As a reader, what authors did you love to read as a child, and do you think this influenced your later passion for writing?

I remember reading the Chronicles of Narnia series at a young age and just being mesmerised by the sheer enormity of C S Lewis’s world. More importantly, I also remember watching various TV and film adaptations and, for the first time, realising that most things I watched came from books. This was a trigger for me. I don’t think it was necessarily the moment I decided that I wanted to be a writer, but it was certainly the moment when started to realise how important literature was to me.

  1. When did you first become attracted to writing Crime Fiction and why?

I was relatively late to the party and my interest in crime fiction was really kindled by my wife, who is vastly more intelligent and well-read than me. During most of my twenties I was reading horror and supernatural thrillers (the weirder the better) and, whilst I still enjoy the occasional freaky outing, Jo introduced me to crime fiction and I’ve never looked back.

  1. I learnt a great deal about World War II from my father who had a lifelong interest in the war (having lived through it,) so I wondered where your interest in World War II began, and why it became a pivotal part of this novel?

This started when I was five years old and my grandfather started to tell me about his experiences in the war. My mum was called into school one day and asked about him because I’d told all my teachers he was a prisoner. I think I’d triggered a safeguarding alert. In fact, he had been a POW for most of the war Stalag 18A, a POW camp at Wolfsberg, Austria, having been captured in Greece in May 1941.

One particular story he told me still sends a shiver down my spine. On the 28th December 1940, the HMT Orcades arrived at Suez and the troops, Grandad included, were lined up to embark on one of two ships to Greece. Just before boarding, someone who knew Grandad called him over to the other ship: a regiment there needed a driver. He swapped ships at the last minute. It was to become the most important decision of his life. The other ship was sunk and the troops on it were lost to the sea.

A different ship, a different decision, and I would never have been born. Ever since then I’ve been fascinated by the war, and the role that fate plays in all of our lives.

  1. Your main character Charlie is complex, in that he is both incredibly smart and at times sure of himself, yet also with a uniquely vulnerable side. Where did you draw inspiration from for this character?

Charlie Priest is a mish-mash of people. First and foremost, he isn’t me. I’m not that cool. There’s bits of me in there, a little, but not much. Charlie is kind of the guy I would want to be if I was infinitely more confident and brighter. He’s like a bespoke fictional role model that I drew from various elements of other characters, from James Bond to Sherlock Holmes to Harry Hole and maybe a bit of Luther too.

  1. This novel is a fascinating mix of the past and present. Could you share some insights as to how you came up with the concept for this story?

It’s a difficult process to breakdown but I guess it went something like this:

  • Create an antagonist that everyone will find universally detestable;
  • Confuse the nature of the antagonist through the introduction of a secret society or cult to exacerbate the sinisterism;
  • Give the antagonists a diabolical motivation, something utterly abhorrent so as to really make the reader want to see the hero prevail;
  • Make the secret society a paedophile ring;
  • Abandon the idea of the paedophile ring because it’s been done before and come up with something else. Something worse;
  • Write The Mayfly

6. Could you name three authors who would be among your top ten favourite authors of all time?

Okay, here goes, in no particular order:

Antony Horowitz – because of his breath-taking ability to not only write novels in his own voice but in the voice of other writers who are, on their own merits, masters of the craft

Val McDermid – The queen of crime has few rivals when it comes to her ability to portray the ugly reality of crime but without it ever being overkill

Stephen King – because nobody tells stories like Stephen King. Nobody.

Thank you for your time James.

I think we can all agree this is a fascinating insight into  both the author and his thoughts behind the writing of this novel.   Away and buy your copy now!

 

 

 

 

Review of Stoner by John Williams

Stoner

Stoner to buy on Amazon UK

Described by The Sunday Times on its cover as ‘The greatest novel you’ve never read,’ Stoner by John Williams is a superb piece of prose fiction.

First published to little acclaim in 1973, thanks to John McGahern for one, it enjoyed a successful renaissance in 2003.   I first read it a few ago at a book club, and enjoyed it so much, I decided to read it again and review it here.

An only child, brought up on his parents’ farm in Missouri, William Stoner led a small sheltered existence.  In 1910, he goes to the University of Columbia, Missouri, to study agriculture, so that he can help his father out more on the farm.  However, during one semester when he has to take an extra subject, he takes a course in English Literature and falls in love with language and literature.  His life is changed by his professor Archer Sloane who recognizes a fellow traveller and encourages his passion.

Much to his parents’ dismay, he abandons his studies in agriculture and instead pursues a degree in English literature, followed by further academic studies, in order to become a professor of English literature himself.

This is a simple story of one man’s life and the struggles he faces.  Written in the third person, the narrative style is factual and understated, but with such an elegant beauty that it rendered me tearful on several occasions throughout the novel.

William Stoner is a quiet man, full of integrity, who builds his life on solid principles and values. Sadly, there are always those who would seek to take advantage of such goodness.  Stoner’s wife Edith is one such character.  She is so manipulative and evil towards her husband that you are desperately hoping he gives her a good clout.  He is too good a man for that.  He faces everything she throws at him with equanimity and good humour, and this is frustrating at times, if not admirable.

When Edith seeks to separate his daughter from him, I was disappointed in him for the only time throughout the book, for not standing up to her.

Stoner faces challenges from both students and professors at the university.  He remains true to his principals at all times when refusing to pass a student – Charles Walker, for work that does not deserve to pass.  In doing so, he incurs the ongoing hatred of a fellow professor called Lomax, who tries to ruin Stoner.  Stoner quietly continues to stand by his values, do what is asked of him (even when it is horribly unfair) and heroically does so without complaint.

There are times during the novel when you wonder how much more the poor man can take.  He does at times question this himself:

“He had come to that moment in his age when there occurred to him, with increasing intensity, a question of such overwhelming simplicity that he had no means to face it.  He found himself wondering if his life were worth the living; if it had ever been.”

He finds happiness later in life with Katherine Driscoll, a student, and as we cheer him on, we know that yet again he is fated to lose the one true love of his life.

Whether you feel Stoner is a weak man or a hero, you cannot doubt his integrity, goodness and calm perseverance through the unfair blows of fate he is dealt.  He is not without passion and has given love as well as receiving it. He reflects on the love he has given:

“But he was not beyond it, he knew and would never be.  Beneath the numbness, the indifference, the removal, it was there, intense and steady; it had always been there.  In his youth he had given it freely, without thought; he had given it to the knowledge that had been revealed to him-how many years ago?-by Archer Sloane; he had given it to Edith, in those first blind foolish days of his courtship and marriage; and he had given it to Katherine, as if it had never been given before.  He had, in odd ways, given it to every moment of his life.”

I loved this book as much, if not more, on a second reading.  The narrative pace is as perfect as I have ever read in any novel.  It is the understated elegance of the prose and the sadness of one man’s heroic struggle against those of ‘meaner natures and lesser minds.’   I cannot recommend it highly enough.  It deserves the status of a classic.

As ever, feel free to share your views on the novel.  I would love to hear them!

I am having a little break from my list of betterment, but in July will return with the next book on my list, which is ‘The Razor’s Edge’ by Somerset Maugham.  It was supposed to be ‘Of Human Bondage’ by Maugham, but I have read that and couldn’t put myself through it again!  I read ‘The Razor’s Edge’ over 20 years ago, so can’t remember a thing about it.  Let’s see how I get on this time!

Feel free to read along or share your current reads.  Any books that have changed your life lately? Don’t keep it to yourself – be kind and share!

Book Addiction – Bad!  Reading – Good! Why there are worse things than a Book Addiction!

Image result for too many books

I have noticed recently that my to be read pile is growing at an alarming rate and my book addiction is getting worse.  I find it hard to pass a book shop without going in…’just for a look,’ which inevitably turns into the purchase of at least one book and usually several.  If there’s a two for the price of one offer on I’m sunk.  As for second hand and charity bookshops, it is not unheard of for me to come out with between eight to ten books.

I was berating myself for this the other day, as I tried to cram yet more books onto a shelf which is already overflowing.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: This is ridiculous, this book buying has really got to stop.  Look at all these books….grrrrr.

Me in reply: Oh but look at them, aren’t they fabulous?  I can’t wait to read them.

Me: Read them?  Half of those books have been sitting on that shelf for nearly two years without being read, because you keep buying more.

Me in reply: I know, but I will read them one day.

Me: One day, one day.  Just STOP buying books.  You are a total nightmare.  You keep buying new books before you have even read the ones you have.

Me in reply:  OK, I know that is a bit of a problem and I am going to try and stop doing that.  But I still think there are much worse addictions that a book addiction, and in fact some would say it’s a good way to spend your money.  I am going to think of all the reasons to justify my book addiction, and guess what I might even write a blog post about it.

Me: You do that.  (Carries on day in a huff with self.)

So, here I am ready to tell you all the reasons why it is good to buy books

  1. By the time I am an old lady (if God willing I live into old age) I will have the most fantastic book collection which I may be able to leave to a library or perhaps a group of schools, thus imparting wisdom and learning.
  2. Reading is a fantastic way to learn about life, about people, and about how to make sense of the world. Novels, short stories, poetry and non-fiction all help us in this way.  Thus, books are an essential tool in our lives.
  3. Reading a physical book means you are not looking at a screen which we all now know has to be a good thing. We are spending far too much time looking at screens to the detriment of our long-term health and wellbeing.
  4. Reading stimulates the mind. It has been shown that stimulating the mind slows down the deterioration of the mind and keeps us mentally agile.
  5. Reading helps us become more empathetic as we begin to understand how other people view the world.
  6. Reading helps us feel connected, when we see that other human beings share the same emotions and thoughts as we do.
  7. Reading makes you more intelligent.
  8. Reading helps you unwind before sleep (as long as it is not a page turner in which case, good luck!)
  9. Reading helps you escape your daily grind by taking you to exotic and exciting places.
  10. According to researchers at theUniversity of Sussex, reading for just six minutes can help reduce stress levels by up to 68 percent.

I rest my case.  Now if someone could just help me figure out how to stop buying books until I have read the ones I already have, that would be great.

Image result for too many books

 

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and MargaritaThe Master and Margarita on Amazon

Where to begin?  What a novel!  Honestly, I am still reeling. Strange beyond strange. The weirdest aspect of it all – I still can’t decide whether I loved it or hated it.  What I loved was the sheer boldness of the Devil.  I also loved the imagery and the lightning fast roller coaster action. What I hated was always asking myself ‘what does that mean? and why did that just happen?  Hard work.

I couldn’t even begin to sum up the plot, so I’ll just give you a few of the main points.

It begins with two men having a discussion while sitting on a park bench at Patriarch’s Ponds in Moscow.  One is a poet called Bedzomy and the other is a man called Berlioz. He is the head of the literary society Massolit. They are having a discussion about the existence of Jesus Christ.  A foreign looking gentleman sits down beside them.   He goes by the name of Professor Woland, but is actually the devil – are you with me so far?  OK that’s about the most straightforward part of the novel.

From there we have two settings, – 1930s Moscow, where Woland and his entourage, which includes an oversized cat called Behemouth, wreak havoc on society through magic shows, fires, and all manner of madness, which leads to many individuals ending up in a psychiatric ward, including the aforementioned Bedzomy.

The second setting is a novel within a novel – the Master, a writer that we only know by that name, has written a book about Pontius Pilate, and we are given extracts of this work which is set in Jerusalem.   The Master also ends up in the psych ward, but is later freed.  We know nothing about his past or where he came from, which I also found hard to get my head around.

If you want a detailed description of the novel, can I suggest you use Google, where you will find minds far better equipped to describe the plot than I can.  I am merely blogging of my experience of reading this as part of my Reading Gym – she says, copping out entirely.  Sorry but I feel I would need a Masters in English lit to get to the truth of this one.

So, I guess having ploughed my way through this novel, am I any the wiser?

Well one thing I can understand is why it is regarded as a classic.  It includes magical realism, a satirical look at the Soviet Union of the 1930s, not to mention looking at the themes of religion and even love.  There are also major thematic debates on the battle between good and evil.

The love story between the Master and Margarita only comes into play in the second half of the novel, and having persevered to that point, I began to enjoy it much more, as some of the mysteries were cleared up.

What I found difficult about this novel were the incredible number of themes, deeper meanings and satire. I found it hard at times to enjoy the story for its own sake.  I was always aware of there being more than the narrative at play.

Would I recommend it?  If you like a challenge, or you feel like reading something wild and completely different, then yes.  Otherwise forget it.   I feel like I would need to read it at least two more times to really get to grips with it, but somehow, I suspect I won’t ever read it again.   Oh well, at least now I can say I have read some Russian literature!

If you have read it, please feel free to share your thoughts.  Maybe you can educate us all?!

Next month’s read is Stoner by John Williams.  Hoorah!  I have read it before and cannot wait to read it again and share my views.   I highly recommend Stoner.

Review of ‘Making It Up As I Go Along’ by Marian Keyes.

marian-keyes

There are two female Irish writers who I think are underrated.  Maeve Binchy and Marian Keyes.  Both undoubtedly beloved and revered, but I don’t think people appreciate what skilled writers they were in Maeve’s case, and are in Marian’s.     The trick is, they make it look effortless, but it’s not, and I don’t think people appreciate that enough.

‘Maeve’s Times’ by Maeve Binchy is one of my favourite books ever.  It made me laugh, cry, and sigh with envy.  I re-read it from time to time and it gets better with every reading.

So, it was with some trepidation and excitement that I set out to read Marian’s series of articles. The trepidation came because I was nearly afraid I wouldn’t like them, and that would have been terrible, what with being such an ardent admirer.  I should have known my fears were ridiculous.

I began reading the book one night whilst in bed.  My husband began to look at me in a most alarming manner, as I began to shake with laughter and then to snort most unbecomingly.  At one point, I think I sounded like Pluto the dog.  From the very first piece on ‘Fake Tan,’ where my snorting was caused by an anecdote in which Marian goes to get fake tan administered at a salon for the first time.  She isn’t told until it is applied that she can’t wash it off until the following morning.  Unfortunately, she had plans to go out for dinner for her mammy’s birthday.  As she tells it:

“At the restaurant I caused a bit of a stir.  As if the smell wasn’t bad enough, bits of the mud were going black and green and falling off my face into my dinner.”

I don’t laugh easily.  A friend at school once told me I was terrible for laughing at other’s misfortunes.  I prefer to think I am laughing with them.  Marian Keyes is so exquisitely funny about the calamities that can strike when we least expect it and we are doing our best to just get on with things.  I laugh in understanding, in female solidarity and in empathy.

I once told a friend a story about leaving a suitcase in the wrong person’s house in London, and as it was the height of the troubles, and it was found with a Belfast address, all kinds of hell broke loose, while I was busy sunning myself on a beach in France.  It’s a long, complicated story, but my friend has been dining out on it ever since, and says it is the funniest thing she has ever heard.

Equally, my 10-year-old niece adores the story of how I sprayed myself from head to toe with an anti-mosquito Citronella spray and inadvertently became exceptionally drunk from the amount of ethanol in the spray. And there was me thinking it was natural and therefore safe.

So I have had more than my fair share of minor disasters too, and this my friends is where Marian is a joy.  She is generous in sharing both her good successful experiences (of which there are many I might add) and her less successful forays into areas of her life such as travel, the beauty industry, exercise, and the complicated business of living.  I am not a sycophant.  For example, I don’t always agree with her butchering of the English language for comic purposes – it doesn’t always work for me.

However, I do love this book and I think everyone should read it, for it is a tonic for the soul.  Marian Keyes is a great conversationalist, and her narrative voice is what makes the book special.  She writes as if you were sitting in her kitchen, having a chat and a cuppa. What’s not to love?

To end:

10 reasons why Marian Keyes is Fabulous:

  1. Despite her success as an author, she never pretends it is easy, and she is happy to admit she struggles with her writing.
  2. She is self-deprecating and exceptionally witty, but we also know that she is really very clever.
  3. She loves Alexander McCall Smith. I was SO excited when I read this.  Whenever I rave on to people about AMS, they usually mumble something about having read a couple of his books, but look at me like I am a bit sad.  This enrages me and makes me rave all the more.  Marian gets him, and his lovely books.
  4. She is generous in the extreme in sharing her tips for all kinds of things, from cooking to beauty, to writing, and she shares her mistakes too, so we can all learn from them.
  5. She is hilarious about ‘himself’ and showed her vulnerability and brilliant sense of humour when ‘himself’ went off trekking up a mountain somewhere far away (sorry don’t remember where it was) and she feared she would ‘lose him’ to one of the females in the climbing group.  She tweeted with much angst and hilarity.
  6. She is a big fan of Strictly and her blogs and tweets re the shows are unmissable.
  7. Her tweets and vlogs are legendary. Also, she is not like many well-known people who think they are too important to tweet with a non-celeb! She tweets with lots of different people.
  8. Her book ‘Is Anybody Out there?’ is one of the best novels I have read about the experience of grief. It stayed with me for ages afterwards.
  9. She supports causes she believes in, and donated her royalties for ‘Making It Up As I Go Along’ to the Save the Children Syria crisis. I mean – Come On.
  10. She started her tribute to Jilly Cooper at the Bord Gais Energy Book Awards last December, by addressing the assembled company with her signature vernacular of ‘Lads…..’ I was watching it on the T.V. and nearly fell off my sofa in admiration and glee.  Funny, funny fabulous woman.

P.S.  I have decided not to tweet Marian the link to this piece for fear that she will –

(a) Think I am a stalker, which I am SO not.   I am happy to admire from afar.  (Or even worse, she gets the link but doesn’t bother to read it.)

(b) She will hate it and think me a creepy fan.  This would kill me altogether, so this remains between us.  I am just glad to have put it out there to encourage you to buy the book.  You can laugh and support a good cause. Sure, what more could you want?

P.P.S.  If you have been following my ‘Reading Gym’ list or ‘List of Betterment’ (see November’s blog post.)  I will be back next week with my review of ‘Les Jeux Sont Faits’ by Sartre.   The book for March is ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen.

 

Middlemarch by George Eliot

middlemarch-by-george-eliot

This was the first book on my 2017 ‘list of betterment’ (see previous post in Nov 2016, on ‘The Year of Reading Dangerously’ by Andy Millar) or as I call it, ‘My Book/Reading Gym.’

I set myself a target to read 50 pages a day.  Some days I read more, on only a few occasions I read slightly less.  As I reached 600+ pages I galloped through the final 200 pages.

Readers have strong views on Middlemarch.  They rhapsodize about it, or detest it.  Not much middle ground in terms of the opinions I have heard. Well – I loved it.  I wouldn’t say it was the best book I have ever read or that it changed my life, but I definitely loved it.

George Eliot writes as omniscient narrator, and this along with the Victorian references and wordiness grated with me initially, until the brilliant characterization swept me along, and I became lost in the world of Middlemarch society.

The novel is set in 1830 and covers a wide range of the societal and political issues of the day, from medicine to parliamentary reform and education. I won’t begin to try and summarize the plot.  If you want to know what it’s about, google it my friends!  800 pages is 300 pages too long for a summary.

Instead I am going to tell you why I loved this novel.  The manner in which Eliot draws together all the different lives of the characters, and weaves the storylines between them, and makes the connections appear understated yet important, is nothing short of genius.   The characters’ lives weave, mesh and become entangled in the subtlest but most daring ways.   Two characters who may have not even met, suddenly turn out to be the cause of each other’s potential downfall.  The moral dilemma between Bulstrode, Dr Lydgate and the rest of Middlemarch society had me gripped and transfixed.

The two main characters of Dorothea and Dr Lydgate held the most interest for me.   Many reviewers have portrayed Dorothea as a saint and a specimen of perfection.  For me (as much as I did try to imagine how hard it must have been for women in the 1830s) she was an irritating sycophant.  She married the much older Mr Causaubon because he was so highly knowledgeable in her eyes, and so much worthier than herself.  Blimey, whip yourself a bit harder why don’t you.  She had him on such a high pedestal, it was inevitable there was only one way for him to go, which he duly did.  Down down down.     She then falls in love with Will Ladislaw, but cannot admit it to herself, or have anything to do with him until he proves himself worthy.  I know she had it tough, but I just yearned for her to show some feistiness, or some rebellion at some point.  Her self-pity and self-flagellation just made me want to puke.  Mind you, her sister Celia was worse, particularly when she became a mother to her darling Arthur.

Even though Rosamond (who married Dr Lydgate) was vain, self-centred and selfish, at least she had a bit of back bone and knew what she wanted.

My two favourite characters were probably Dr Lydgate and Mary Garth.  Humble, dependable, sure of themselves and their values. Poor Dr Lydgate.  My heart truly broke for him.  Marrying the selfish Rosamond, and struggling both financially and with his lifelong ambition. He needed a wife like Dorothea to fulfill all his needs, while he got on with his work.

Middlemarch is a book I imagine you could read five or six times and still not fully appreciate.  There is so much to it, my mind boggles just thinking about it.  It is a book I hope to read again in a few years.    To be honest I don’t think I got the full juice out of it on a first reading.  I also appreciated and enjoyed the exquisite writing, and marked many passages in the book.  One of my favourites regarded the nature of Mr Casaubon and his inability to enjoy anything in life.  A truly remarkable piece of writing:

“It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy; to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self – never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold…but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted.”  (Chapter 29 Page 280 Penguin Classics edition)

Eliot’s wisdom is rare, her genius plentiful.  It may take some effort and some time to read this masterpiece, but certain things are worth the effort, and in my opinion, reading Middlemarch is one of them.

If you have read it, I would love to hear your opinions.  Who was your favourite character?  Do you agree with me re Dorothea, or do you think she is the true heroine of the novel? Pray do tell (sorry…went all Victorian there for a moment.)

Next up at The Reading Gym is:  ‘Les Jeux sont Faits’ by Sartre.   I will be reading it in French, but if you fancy reading along, you can get a translation entitled ‘The Chips are Down.’  What a hideous translation, but never mind!  It’s not that easy to get, so I fear I may be on my own with this one!  The next book after that is ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen.   I can’t wait for that one!

Thank you for reading.  I hope you enjoyed your stay at The Book Club Cafe!

 

 

 

 

Disovering JM Coetzee.

After reading earlier this year, that JM Coetzee has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for his work ‘The Schooldays of Jesus,’ I decided it was high time I began to read some of his work.  Given that he has won the Man Booker Prize twice, for ‘Life and Times of Michael K’ (1983) and ‘Disgrace’ in (1999) he could be the first writer to win it a record three times, if he wins this year.

I borrowed a beautiful hard back copy of ‘Disgrace’ from my father’s vast collection of books.  I now understand why Coetzee is so highly respected, if somewhat controversial in his native South Africa.  His prose is exquisite, and he makes it look effortless which is all the more incredible.

Disgrace tells the story of university professor David Lurie, who loses his job after having an affair with one of his students.   The student in question Melanie Isaacs does not initially seem to reject his advances, and although the sex may be far from passionate on her part she does not object. However, she later brings a charge against him, which leads to him leaving the university in disgrace.

He goes to stay on his daughter Lucy’s farm in the Eastern Cape, where he helps her take care of her stray dogs and he helps out on the farm.   He meets Petrus, who describes himself as ‘the gardener and the dog man’ but we soon come to realize that he is much more than that and he has plans and plenty of them.

I won’t give away any more of the plot, but suffice to say what happens next on the farm will change Lucy and David’s lives forever.

A difficult and at times highly depressing novel, through David and Lucy’s complex relationship, we see who holds the power in a still racially segregated South Africa.

Coetzee uses the animals as a way to show the cruelty of man’s inhumanity to man.  At the dog shelter where he helps remove the dogs who have been put down, the owner says:

‘Yes we eat up a lot of animals in this country…It doesn’t seem to do us much good. I’m not sure how we will justify it to them.’

David Lurie feels shame and guilt over the on-going savagery shown towards animals throughout, and his pain is visceral, although he ends up feeling useless to prevent it.

The characters in the novel seemed to me to be somewhat resigned to their fate, in particular Lucy, who doesn’t put up any kind of fight at all to change her tragic circumstances.  It is as if the winds of change have come, and they are utterly powerless to stop them or make their lives better.

There are power struggles and then there is cruelty and horror, and Coetzee shows the thin line between the two sadly continues to exist in South Africa.

A brilliant novel, but not for the faint hearted.   A novel that stayed with me long after I had finished reading it, and one which, in my view, thoroughly deserved all the plaudits it received.

I have not yet decided which of his novels to read next.  I will let you know.  Any suggestions?

 

 

 

Big Magic. Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

BIG MAGIC picture

Are you creative? Have you ever considered that question? Well Elizabeth Gilbert has given it serious consideration and has published her thoughts in ‘Big Magic. Creative Living Beyond Fear.’
Having watched her Ted Talk on said subject, I was immediately curious when I read about the publication of this book, because I thought her talk was witty, informative and inspiring.

This may be seen as another ‘self-help’ book, but whether you loved ‘Eat Pray Love’ or hated it, Gilbert apparently doesn’t care either way, and this attitude permeates much of her advice regarding creativity – i.e. – don’t give a damn about what anyone thinks, just do it anyway.

The book is divided up into six parts, entitled; Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust and Divinity. Through a mixture of her own experiences, anecdotes and words of wisdom she has collected from others, she takes us on a journey through our own creative minds. She begins with a very pertinent question: ‘Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?’ She goes on to say that if we can find the courage to uncover the hidden jewels of creativity that may be lying dormant within us, then we can turn a mundane existence into a more interesting and therefore extraordinary life.

She urges us to follow our curiosity, saying “curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living”.
This is not an intellectual book. There is no scientific evidence for any of it. It is more like a pep talk from your best friend, albeit with plenty of good anecdotes, quotes and ideas thrown in.

However, despite its lack of serious research, what I love about this book is not only the wit, charm and wisdom displayed in every chapter, but that it does provide practical advice, and it also made me feel more inspired. Gilbert doesn’t expect us to be geniuses or to be perfect. She appreciates rejection, the nature of how reality can kick you up the bum, and the frustration one can sometimes experience in living a creative life. But she wants you to do it anyway, because as she says in other words, doesn’t it make life a lot more interesting?

There is also some good advice for the perfectionists out there: “You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures. You can battle your demons (through therapy, recovery, prayer, or humility) instead of battling your gifts — in part by realizing that your demons were never the ones doing the work, anyhow.”

There are fabulous anecdotes within Big Magic. From Clive James painting bicycles, to a man going to a fancy dress as a lobster, only to discover it was a medieval court themed fancy dress; each anecdote contains a lesson or message on creativity.

This is a book you can pick up every day and just read a couple of pages to set you up for the day. Gilbert doesn’t preach and she doesn’t teach. Instead she shares her experiences and offers some advice to bring out your best, most interesting creative self. If you are looking for a serious book full of research and statistics, this book is not for you, but I don’t mind a bit of light hearted creative banter, in fact I enjoy it enormously. I found this a joyful book and I would recommend it – you may just find that nugget of wisdom you seek.