This book has an interesting style. It is fiction but is written as if it is true crime with the text made up primarily of witness accounts and trial documents and reports. The crime in question is the murder of a Scottish crofter and his young son and daughter, the criminal is one of his neighbours, a 17-year-old boy, Roderick Macrae. It is set in 1869 in the Highlands of Scotland.
Most of the book is an account written by Roderick (who freely admits his guilt) of the circumstances leading up to his crime. It makes fascinating reading, not just because of the crime, but because of the picture it paints of life as a 19th century crofter. People living as peasants long after the industrial revolution had swept the rest of the country.
The story also offers an element of mystery. Not as to who did the crime, as that is pretty clear, but why. Because he is so open about his guilt Roderick seems a reliable witness but aspects of his account don’t tally with evidence found in court documents. Did he really kill the family driven by family pride after a prolonged disagreement as he claims or did he actually have baser motives?
It is a very interesting and well written book. Mysterious and offers a glimpse into a world very different from modern Britain.
This is a great book. It consists nine short stories about men. It seems pretty random at first as the men are from all different countries, different classes and the stories are different; some funny, some sad some kind of just incidental. After the first few though you realise that the age of the man goes up by a few years in each story, so I guess if you are looking for a theme this deals with the stages of life; the first main character is boy who has just finished his A-Levels and the last an old man facing declining health and the end of his life, in between you find young men exploring their sexuality, facing unwanted fatherhood, struggling to find career success, relationship breakdowns and disappointments – life basically. Some men are rich, some poor, some reasonably happy, others totally depressed – there was heaps of variety.
I guess the downside of such a mix is that you are bound to relate to some stories and characters more than others. My favourite was the second tale about a young French man who goes on an 18-30 style beach holiday to Cyprus on his own after his intended companion drops out last minute. A bit of a saddo, he struggles to make friends when he gets there and ends up being taken under the wing of an obese mother and daughter from England. Not cool! I have never been a male French youngster but could really relate to the concerns, possibilities and awkwardness of youth that Szalay portrays. This section was funny enough to have me laughing out loud and gasping with joyful shock during my commute. It was also strangely touching about finding something rather nice in unexpected places – places that really are not cool!
After this classic the rest could only really go downhill unfortunately although I did still get a lot out of some of the other stories, my second favourite was probably the one about the young academic meeting up with his Polish girlfriend during a road trip and having to deal with her unplanned pregnancy. In this tale I felt so sorry for both characters, one wants the child and one doesn’t and, in my opinion, neither one of them is ‘wrong’ but there is no compromise position and one of them is about to have their whole lives effected against their will. They clearly care about each other but you can feel antagonism grow as he realises he may be forced into fatherhood he doesn’t want (an absent father is still a father) and she realises he is trying to persuade/bully her out of the motherhood she now craves. It is very well written.
I also enjoyed the one about the poverty stricken British loser living with a few other oddballs in an unglamorous Croatian town remembering his glory days in the 1980s when he was briefly quite successful and owned a nice car. He drops into every conversation the old car he used to own 30 years ago – and I can’t even remember the make as I have zero interest in car brands.
Overall though I would say I felt the stories were best when concerning young men. They were more entertaining and rang truer than the later stories. I wondered if that is perhaps because I am still relatively young and can relate to the concerns of youth better than those of late-middle age and old age. Or perhaps the same could be said of the author who is only a few years older than myself.
A very good read and easy to get into as the stories work stand alone so there is no effort involved remembering complicated plots or huge casts of characters – which (sorry to sound lazy) can be a relief if your reading time is made up of a few pages here and there on lunch breaks and commutes.
WARNING: CONTAINS PLOT SPOILERS
I really struggled with this book. It’s not my usually thing, I picked it up on holiday as a previous guest had left it in the apartment where we were staying. I’d stupidly brought some philosophical tome to read which I just couldn’t get my head around so thought this book would be less challenging for holiday reading. It certainly looked it from the colourful cover and from getting to know the main character Lola – a stylist from Dublin with a passionate love of designer labels who’d just been dumped by her more heavyweight politician boyfriend (Patrick D’Courcy, the charming man from the title). She goes to the county to recover where she meets amusing and quirky characters and tries to lick her wounds.
After establishing this set up the narration then switches to other women who have also been close to the ‘charming man’. Steadily it unfolds that he is actually a sadist who beats, rapes and mutilates the woman in his life. It’s quite shocking and the tone pretty much remains in chicklit territory while dealing with these horrifying issues. I think it is a brave move from the author but for me she just doesn’t quite pull it off, the switches between silly moments and serious I found a bit jarring. But that does reflect life doesn’t it? Just because you’ve been a victim of rape, assault or domestic violence doesn’t mean you’ll never laugh again, fall in love again or that you’ll cease to care about the content of Vogue magazine. No, that isn’t my main criticism, I actually think the idea of tackling more serious issue in an accessible style is a very good idea (even if it didn’t entirely work for me).
The main reason I didn’t like it was the plot. I felt let down by it on behalf of abused woman. I’m not sure if I have misunderstood the author but it sent out a very strange message. After we learn about the four different women who have been abused by Patrick their plots start to move together. One of them, a journalist, finds out that Patrick is planning to leak a story to the press to destroy the career of a honourable female politician who she admires. She gets the girls together and they threaten to go to the press with their stories unless he agrees to abandon his scheme, and he does agree and also apologies to them…and they celebrate! He’s raped and tortured them and they are happy to have caused an inconvenience to his career? ! All the woman have been left with permanent physical and psychological scars from his treatment and yet are we to think this is the only justice they can expect? I found this so disappointing.
The novel ends with Patrick’s career badly damaged and him going off to continue to abuse his latest victim…and yet the main characters seem pretty happy with the outcome. I don’t think this holds up in a post Operation Yew Tree, Weinstein and #MeToo world – perhaps the world has moved on since the book was written about 10 years ago or maybe I am just naive. I understand that abuse can damage people mentally as well as physically and maybe the women are so damaged that they don’t have the confidence to aim to bring him to real justice. But then if that is the case the author deals with it very strangely with the girls whooping, laughing and celebrating their ‘victory’ with a night out in the pub.
I decided to read a book from my childhood as it is a favourite for me and my best friend, and we always pretend we are the Mad Hatter and March Hare as it is a reflection on our lives.
Anyway, the story is about Alice who is sitting quietly on the riverbanks of the Thames and then sees a white rabbit who is talking to himself. Alice decides to follow him but then accidentally falls down the rabbit-hole!
She lands in a room with keys in it and sees a very tiny door that leads into a very pretty garden, but it is so small, she is unable to go through the door.
She then notices a small bottle that says “Drink me”, so she decides to drink it and then she becomes very small.
Unfortunately. she forgot to take the keys from the table before drinking the bottle and then realises she needs to grow big again. She then comes across a cake saying “eat me” and then when she does she becomes big. She then starts crying from all the confusion but as she is crying she shrinks again and is forced to swim in her own tears.
Eventually, she decides to go into the garden and comes across a cottage where she meets all the animals, such as Fish- Footman and delivers an invitation from the Queen to play croquet too a Frog -Footman. She comes across a cook who makes pepper soup and then sees the baby changing into a piglet.. She leaves them and meets the Cheshire cat who has a big wide grin.
She then meets Mad Hatter and March Hare who are having a tea party with sleeping Dormouse. She asks them questions but all she gets is riddles and to which nothing makes sense. Hence the phrase the Mad Hatters Tea Party.
This book is full of eccentricity and a dream world of nonsensical wonderland with the tea party and a chaotic game of chess that makes Alice into a Queen.
“Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you’re at!”
“Up above the world you fly,
Like a tea-tray in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle____” ‘
Cityread starts next month and you may already know that Prophesy by S.J. Parris has been chosen as this year’s title. Hope you are planning to read it next month! It is part of a series so I thought I would take a look at the first book in the series in preparation (Prophesy is number two in the series).
The sequence starts with Heresy, the first of five novels (so far) set in the late sixteenth century and following the story of Giordano Bruno, former monk turned travelling academic and part time sleuth! Giordano Bruno was a real person and although all the novels are works of fiction they are littered with real characters and events.
The novel begins in Bruno’s youth as a monk in Italy and gives us a nice background into his character and situation. Expelled from his monastery for reading banned books he has to go on the run and is then later excommunicated for his own controversial writings – making his existence even more perilous.
Portrait of the real Giordano Bruno
Despite his fugitive status he does find favour with some powerful people due to the brilliance of his philosophy and scientific ideas. While this is a time of religious extremism and control it is also a time when learning and new ideas were embraced – these contradictions feature throughout the novels reflecting the confusing times he was living in. After an exciting life on the run, including time spent working for the King of France, Bruno travels to England to a debate at Oxford University he is also hoping to locate a rare book he is eager to read – this is where the meat of this particular story begins.
Before travelling to Oxford Bruno is asked by Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, Walsingham, to keep an eye out for Catholic Heretics while in Oxford. Bruno admires Walsingham and also needs the money offered for the task! He accepts with some reservations.
So you can see he’s in a bit of a pickle before he even begins! He’s hated by some in Protestant England because of his Catholic background. Hated by others because he has been excommunicated. People tend not to trust him because he’s a foreigner. He is eager to impress in a prestigious academic debate even though he doesn’t know the English debating style. He wants to find a book, but can’t ask openly about it as it concerns elements of sorcery and could see him accused of witchcraft. He has been told to look out for Catholics and report them to the authorities but his own instinct is for religious tolerance. As soon as he arrives in Oxford he finds himself attracted to the beautiful and clever daughter of the University Rector – and she is very much out of bounds to a foreign former Catholic!
There is enough here for an exciting novel already…but then there is a grisly murder!
I won’t go into too much detail about the crime as this is basically a plot driven whodunit and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.
I do definitely think it is worth a read. The novel really immerses you in this fascinating era and the plot is pacey and exciting. I suppose my only criticism is that, now I have also read Prophesy, the second novel is considerably better! But this is a good sign as it hopefully means the series will develop and improve as it goes on. In Hersey, while the ideas and feelings of the era seem well described, I often found it difficult to imagine the physical surroundings as S.J. Parris describes them (whereas in Prophesy the setting of Elizabethan London is extremely vivid).