Sunday, 24 February 2013

Books #18-19 Shadows of The Workhouse/Farewell To The East End by Jennifer Worth

The Midwife Trilogy


Length Of Time In Possession : Roughly 2 weeks

Last year, I read the first in The Midwife Trilogy "Call The Midwife" on which the BBC series is based. I picked up the sequels in an omnibus of all 3 in the charity shop and proceeded to read. The follow ups are "Shadows of The Workhouse" and "Farewell to the East End"

Like the original book, some of the stories in these novels are familiar from the show, the second two books like the show strike a darker tone reflecting various social issues from the times : Tuberculosis, Backstreet abortions and the Workhouse.

I'm sad to say that I have found the most recent series of Call The Midwife rather depressing and these books are likewise, with few moments of the humorous respite shown at the beginning.

I have to hold my hand up and say I skipped the lengthy section devoted to the old soldier, it was covered in the series and didn't interest me that much then either. I probably need a slapped wrist for saying that.

As the third book concludes Jenny's life at Nonnatus House and brings the book up to date, it is pretty sad to read. The fact that they all lost touch with Chummy, Cynthia's struggle with religious life, then mental illness, then cancer. The eventual irrelevance of the service Nonnatus House offered, its demise and closure, and the deaths of each nun they worked alongside. But death is, inevitably what happens to people who were in their 20s, 60 odd years ago.

Worth reading, but the novels have almost been entirely covered by just two series worth of Call The Midwife "Jenny Lee" did move on to be a midwife in a hospital for nearly twenty years, and I can't help but wonder if the series will evolve and move on from its Nonnatus setting.

Worth reading but didn't set me alight 7/10

Destination : Back to the charity shop

Sunday, 17 February 2013

A Quick Roundup

As yet February has been pretty unsuccessful for me as regards enjoying the books I have to read. I have given up on and crossed off the following books for different reasons.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Length Of Time In Possession : Nearly 2 years

Try as I might I have been unable to connect with this book. After several false starts I reached 200 pages out of just over 600 in 2 weeks which is really poor by my standards. About a group of people in India who are brought together by circumstance, A Fine Balance is relentlessly depressing in the back stories of its characters, when I heard that matters only get worse later on, I decided to give this a miss.

Destination : ebook storage

How To Teach Quantum Physics To Your Dog by Chad Orzel

Length Of Time In Possession : 4-6 months

I have read a lot of books on this subject primarily by Marcus Chown and Michio Kaku, I found I was profoundly irked by the tone this book struck and found the device of chats to his dog about bones, rabbits and bunnies wearying.

Destination : Charity Shop

Man Eaters Of Kumaon by Jim Corbett

Length Of Time in Possession : 6-12 months

This book about a posh British bloke who goes round shooting tigers in India back in the day thereby contributing to the endangered species problem we have today was really not my thing.

Destination : Returned to owner 

Book #17 In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood

Length Of Time In Possession : Roughly 6 months 

In Cold Blood is the infamous true crime work by Truman Capote. The book is a journal of a serious crime from the 1960's in which four members of the same family were brutally murdered. Motive unknown. Capote takes the crime from its very beginning to the ultimate conclusion of the sentence, focusing both upon the lives of the killers and the victims.

The research is incredible and the lives and the psychologies of all involved are dealt with in depth. 
As you read about all American girl Nancy Clutter, her honest hard working father, sensitive brother and mentally ill mother, it is almost like reading a novel as the attention to even the small details is huge.

With the criminals too we get not just the crime they committed but their full back story, their personal histories and the views of their families.

The crime took place in Kansas and Truman Capote's curiosity was aroused by a small 300 word article in the New York Times, stating the brief facts of the case. Accompanied by his friend, the even more famous writer Harper Lee the two went to Holcomb, Kansas and gaining the trust of the locals, took thousands of pages of personal accounts, before publishing five years after the crime.

As a work, it is seminal, as it was the first of it's kind, and all other true crime works follow in its footsteps, particularly those with a fictional rather than factual style and tone, I think particularly of Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil.

There have been several films made about this story, both about the murder itself and Capote's involvement in documenting it.

I would recommend this novel not only if you like Crime/True Crime but if you like well written non fiction in general


Destination : I borrowed this, and will return it. 

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Book #16 A Place Of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel

A Place Of Greater Safety

Length Of Time In Possession : 9 months

A Place Of Greater Safety is the third Hilary Mantel book I have read following the first two books of her yet to be completed Tudor trilogy Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, like those books it is also a historical epic.

The story focuses on Camille Desmoulins, Georges-Jacques Danton and Maximilien Robespierre, three men who went on to become famous and infamous for the roles as the architects of the French Revolution.

The story begins in their childhoods with Camille and Robespierre meeting at school and Camille befriending Danton in his early years in chambers. The intellect and idealism of these three led to a meeting of minds which destroyed the French establishment and led to the beginnings of the France we know today.

If you know your history of the French Revolution at all, you'll know what became of these three young men you are introduced to as they grew up, but this hardly matters in terms of reading a story whose outcome is already set in stone. You come to look at them as more than just history, a set of ideals, by being introduced to their childhoods and their wives and their friendships you come to see them as rounded human beings.

These are tragic men the architects not just of France but ultimately of their own fates.

The narrative is detailed, phenomenally researched, and the prose and dialogue are often very witty. At one point Desmoulins father thinks of him as "the kind of son you pay to stay away". Danton and Desmoulins are philanderers not above trying it on with each others wives, while Robespierre is the Incorruptible buttoned down, asexual, cold, initially belittled as the Candle Of Arras to another mans Torch, the Incorruptible grows more sinister the more he grows in political stature.

The book took me longer to read than my usual average. At times I felt bogged down and confused by the ever changing political world of these men (Girondin, Jacobin, Brissotist) where friends become foes in a heartbeat. I think this is deliberate in many ways as it thereby reflects the way things changed from moment to moment for the protagonists themselves, one minute the lauded speaker to the gathered Convention, the next fleeing for their lives to England or the provincial towns from whence they came.

This kind of wearying tension, this heightened state of alert can be felt in the novel, and though at times not much is said of the blood of the Guillotine running through Parisian streets, the psychological impact of the blood on their hands is palpable.

What was frustrating for me was that as I reached the end I realised that the novel was only going to cover the conclusion of two of these characters fates, and the third arrived as a postscript following the books close and I felt somehow cheated and I wanted the breakdown of the events that followed the point at which the novel closed.

It seems somehow odd to begin a novel with 3 young boys and yet not give a detailed conclusion to all three threads at the end.

Yet I really did like this novel, and would recommend it, particularly if you are interested in this time period.

Destination : ebook storage