Welcome to another helping of Covet the Covers. This week I’m featuring Nevil Shute’s books. Last week I featured A Town Like Alice on my Friday Face-off, which reminded me just how much I loved his books. I’ve gone for the older covers, though there are lots of options for each of these titles. I absolutely loved Requiem for Wren, which I cried buckets over, and In the Wet (published in 1953) which goes forward in time to 1983 – and had nightmares about On the Beach. But I loved all his books. What about you – have you read any of these and if so, which are your favourites? And which of these covers do you like best?
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
November – really? This year has sped past in a blur. Everyone says that as I get older, the years will go on speeding up. All I can think is that if I make it to my 70s without ending up under the proverbial bus, I’ll probably be unable to function… too giddy with the rate at which my days and weeks are whipping by.
I had a wonderful time at Bristolcon last week, which now feels like a distant memory, but one that is warming with all the friendliness on encountering folk I hadn’t seen for far too long. Thankfully, the journey there and back again on the trains went like clockwork, so Mhairi and I arrived home mid-afternoon on Sunday, having felt like we’d been away for much longer.
This has been another busy week – Himself has spent a fair chunk of it coping with his deafness until we made a major breakthrough on Friday. After syringing his ears yet again – he finally found he could hear. A huge relief – I’m startled at how much it impacted on our relationship with both of us feeling grumpy and insecure because of his hearing loss. It’s lovely to have my funny, witty companion back again.
Other than that, it’s been a week of catching up and teaching – I’m now halfway through this term at Northbrook, which is going well. Poor Tim had to have a toenail removed last Wednesday, so I caught up with Sally instead of teaching him on Thursday. I’ve also been announcing to everyone that I was off this weekend for a writing course – only to discover halfway through Friday that it’s in a fortnight, instead… So not only is Time speeding up, it’s now also playing tricks on me. Thank goodness, I’m not going to be a Timelord – I’d probably have the timeline looping back on itself with the human race heading back towards the Industrial Revolution and good old Queen Victoria’s reign… It is Wednesday, isn’t it? Whatever it is, have a great
month… day… week, everyone!
Last week I read:
Survivor in Death – Book 20 of the In Death series by J.D. Robb
The only thing that kept young Nixie Swisher from suffering the same fate as her parents, brother, housekeeper, and young sleepover companion was the impulsive nine-year-old’s desire for an illicit orange fizzy at 2 a.m. Taking the bereft girl under her wing, Eve is determined to make sure the killers don’t get the chance to finish their lethal job. From the first, however, the investigation is baffling. The Swishers were a nice family, living on the Upper West Side in a house with an excellent security system. Ordinary almost to a fault, they seemed unlikely victims for this carefully planned and executed crime. Valuables at the scene were left untouched, there was no sign of vandalism — just the corpses of five people murdered in their sleep.
I tried this series once before, but couldn’t get to grips with it. Himself recommended this particular story – and I was hooked. At last I have fathomed his passion for this series of near-future murder mystery thrillers…
Satellite by Nick Lake
Moon 2 is a space station that orbits approximately 250 miles above Earth. It travels 17,500 miles an hour, making one full orbit every ninety minutes. It’s also the only home that fifteen-year-old Leo and two other teens have ever known. Born and raised on Moon 2, Leo and the twins, Orion and Libra, are finally old enough and strong enough to endure the dangerous trip to Earth. They’ve been “parented” by teams of astronauts since birth and have run countless drills to ready themselves for every conceivable difficulty they might face on the flight. But has anything really prepared them for life on terra firma?
Once I got used to the text-prose Lake has used to write this YA space-based adventure, I became engrossed in this powerful and emotional read.
A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan
After Grandmére Ursule gives her life to save her tribe, her magic seems to die with her. Even so, her family keeps the Old Faith, practicing the spells and rites that have been handed from mother to daughter for generations. Until one day, Ursule’s young granddaughter steps into the circle, and magic flows anew. From early 19th century Brittany to London during the Second World War, five generations of witches fight the battles of their time, deciding how far they are willing to go to protect their family, their heritage, and ultimately, all of our futures.
I found this saga, following a family cursed with the gift of magic through the ages, a real page-turner. And the angle Morgan takes on WW2 was fascinating…
My posts last week:
Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
Leopard: Fast and Beautiful http://chechewinnie.com/leopard-fast-and-beautiful/ I always look forward to reading Cheche’s fascinating articles on African wildlife and this one featuring leopards is packed full of wonderful pics along with all sorts of information I didn’t know…
Get to Know Ya Book Tag https://readerwitch.com/2018/11/03/different-books/ Alexandra tagged me for this one – thank you Alexandra! – and I loved both the questions and answers.
Winterwood Chapter 1 – Read It Here https://jaceybedford.wordpress.com/2018/11/03/winterwood-chapter-one-read-it-here/ I am two-thirds through Jacey Bedford’s entertaining space opera series, so was delighted to read this start to her fantasy trilogy…
New Poem Featured in Fall 2018 Issue of The Muddy River Poetry Review https://saraletourneauwriter.com/2018/10/31/fall-2018-muddy-river-poetry-review/ Fellow blogger and talented writer Sara Letourneau sent a link to this beautiful poem…
Britain by the Book: The Curious Origins of Mother Hubbard https://interestingliterature.com/2018/11/02/britain-by-the-book-the-curious-origins-of-mother-hubbard/ One of those menacing nursery rhymes we chant to our children, without necessarily thinking too much about those words…
Have a great week and thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site.
I met this author right at the beginning of the year, when I mentioned that I also reviewed books, so tucked the arc away in a safe place and promptly forgot about it. Really sorry, Chris!
Jacob Wesson is a timecop from 2040, sent back to WWII London to stop the assassination of Britain’s war leader. The assignment plays out with apparent ease, but the jump home goes wrong – and from there events slide out of control. Will Jacob be able to ever return to his own time?
I’ve heavily edited the very chatty blurb – whatever you do, don’t read it. It gives away far too much of the plot, which is so well told that it was would a crying shame to already know in advance what is going to happen. Needless to say, the jump goes awry and Jacob isn’t retrieved quickly. Of course all operators are trained for this eventuality, but they are repeatedly assured that with their implant locators and a team of trained observers keeping a close eye on all sensitive timestrands – and WWII is a very sensitive strand – his rescue will only be a matter of a few days.
I wasn’t all that sure I liked Jacob very much. In fact, the crew from 2040 are all rather edgy and slightly unpleasant, with the exception of the newest recruit, Nancy. But that might be the result in living in a besieged London, where everyone is terrified of being blown up by a suicide bomber and parts of the city are cordoned off behind blast-proof walls. While other areas of London have simply gone feral. The infrastructure has badly suffered and the streets are dirty and littered – to the extent that Jacob finds himself preferring blitzed London and the comradeship he sees on a daily basis, although everyone is clearly suffering and the rationed food is dreadful.
Barnham manages to depict both versions of London very effectively without holding up the pace. Jacob grew on me as his character expanded while he learnt to live during WWII. He is brave, resourceful and thinks on his feet and discovers that he is capable of loving wholeheartedly – something he’d thought was beyond him. The other character I loved right from the word go is Amy, who is also tough and resourceful through sheer necessity. The generation who lived through the war were remarkable and Barnham gives us a sense of that without lapsing into sentimentality.
It would have been so easy to dip this book in a layer of treacle, but Barnham resists that temptation. While the romance does power a vital part of the storyline, this book isn’t primarily about the love story. It’s far more concerned about what happens if in the future we develop the means to travel back in time and alter the timeline. What is to stop terrorists or fundamentalists illegally travelling back and attempting to alter the timeline? And if that does happen a number of times – who decides which alteration stands?
I really like Barnham’s approach that slowly unspools throughout the story that became steadily more gripping. It is an intelligent, powerful take on time travel that is going to stay with me for a long time. Highly recommended for fans of time travelling tales.
I read and thoroughly enjoyed Noble’s novel about the early days of Grimsby in her engrossing tale, Ranter’s Wharf, see my review here. So when I heard she was bringing out a new historical novel – this time featuring Australia – I jumped at the chance to read an advance copy in return for an honest review.
Sadie is brought up amongst the vineyards of the Yarra Valley whilst her work-obsessed father reaps riches from the boom years before the Great War. With post-war depression looming, Sadie’s only option is to flee from her disastrous marriage, seeking refuge in Cleethorpes, a small seaside town in northern England. Years later, when her sons are in RAF Bomber Command, she receives a letter from her long-lost brother which forces her to confront the past and her part in her family’s downfall.
Noble has done a great deal of research, as many of the characters featuring in this family saga are actual family members, including Sadie, although not much is on record about this intriguing woman, other than the fact that after her failed marriage, she left for England. This is a fascinating tale fictionalising her life, stretching back to Sadie’s childhood, where her earliest memories are of being constantly moving houses, the next one ever grander and better than the previous one. Though her growing up years are blighted by the sudden death of her mother, which brings about a set of circumstances which probably wouldn’t have happened if there had been a vigilant and caring mother-figure at home. I really enjoyed Sadie as a character – she wants to please and conform, as girls were trained to do back in those days, but when it all hits the fan, she also proves that she has plenty of courage to take the necessary steps to start again.
In charting Sadie’s life, Noble gives us a vivid insight into the life and times, including customs, food and entertainment in an easy, natural writing style I have come to associate with her books. This is a real strength of the book, which makes it a delightful read.
The depiction of life during WW2, which is the other narrative running alongside Sadie’s earlier experiences, works well as a contrast to those days of heat, sunshine and socialising in Australia, as life in England on the Home Front was demanding. People were frequently hungry, cold and exhausted as they dealt with food rationing, war work and sleepless nights during bombing raids. This is all well described as part of Sadie’s daily round without holding up the story, while she is also desperately worried about her sons, who are all away fighting.
The only niggle I have is the wrinkle in the developing love story. It feels a bit contrived for the purposes of the narrative arc, but it’s not a dealbreaker. Do also read the Afterword, which is fascinating. I had no idea that Stanley, Sadie’s beloved brother, had led such an interesting life after his time in Australia. This is highly recommended for fans of sagas and historical adventures featuring WW2 and Australia.
Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
This is my choice of the day:
Sadie’s Wars: An Australian Saga – Book 3 in the Currency Girls series by Rosemary Noble
99% One day, in the late 1970s, a reporter from the Grimsby Evening Telegraph visited the Dolphin looking for a story. The landlord suggested he talk to his oldest regular, Stanley Timms, and a piece was written for the newspaper detailing his life. We read it; made fun of it because it sounded unbelievable. A father who owned an award-winning vineyard and a million-acre sheep station, a friend of the Murdochs, and Dame Nellie Melba, a winner of horse races and a member of the CIA in WW2. Not possible, we thought, until he produced his CIA membership card at Christmas dinner. Unassuming, gentle Stanley had spent his war behind Japanese lines as a coast watcher in Borneo. After the war, his forest, the sole remaining piece of Timms property was taken over by the Indonesian government, without compension, and he was left penniless.
BLURB: An astonishing tale, spanning continents, where truth is stranger than fiction. This historical saga of an extraordinary Australian pioneer family continues into a new generation. Sadie is brought up amongst the vineyards of the Yarra Valley whilst her work-obsessed father reaps riches from the boom years before the Great War. With post-war depression looming, Sadie’s only option is to flee from her disastrous marriage, seeking refuge in Cleethorpes, a small seaside town in northern England.
Years later, when her sons are in RAF Bomber Command, she receives a letter from her long-lost brother which forces her to confront the past and her part in her family’s downfall.
No… I haven’t given you a flavour of the story – you’ll have to take my word for it that the writing is fluent and very readable. This extract is from the Afterword as I was just boggled at the manner in which this family discovered they’d been related to a colourful, once highly-regarded member of Australian society who has now been written out of history… Noble has done a storming job of recreating this era through her fictionalised account of the life of Sadie, one of the family members in the middle of this eventful time.
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
I have been busy this week writing the course notes for this term’s Creative Writing course which starts on 17th September, which sounds a while away, but I know from experience that it isn’t. I managed to get all but the final handout written, which I’m pleased about. The regular admin and lesson plans still need to be written, but at least I’ve done the hard part.
On Monday I met up with one of my students who has missed a couple of terms through illness. It was lovely to see her again, looking so much better as we caught up on each other’s lives. I had lunch with my sister on Tuesday and we went shopping together on Friday, though I resisted the temptation to buy anything major – which was a feat we celebrated by having a very leisurely chat over a looong cup of tea together. On Saturday, I travelled up to Cambridge to catch up with my son who I hadn’t seen since Christmas – far too long! We visited the Anthony Gormley exhibition, which was marvellous – and then he treated me to a trip on the river. It was so much fun watching him windmill the pole as he punted me up the river that the rain simply didn’t matter.
During this coming week, I will not be commenting or replying on my blog as I shall be on a writing retreat and I’m not sure about the wifi connection – parts of the country aren’t very well served. But I will catch up once I get back.
This week I have read:
Menagerie – Book 1 of the Menagerie series by Rachel Vincent
When Delilah Marlow visits a famous traveling carnival, Metzger’s Menagerie, she is an ordinary woman in a not-quite-ordinary world. But under the macabre circus big-top, she discovers a fierce, sharp-clawed creature lurking just beneath her human veneer. Captured and put on exhibition, Delilah is stripped of her worldly possessions, including her own name, as she’s forced to “perform” in town after town.
I rapidly became engrossed in Delilah’s plight, unable to forget the numbers of youngsters imprisoned and trapped by illegal trafficking, though this book can also be read as a piece of escapist fiction.
Kindred Spirits – Book 5 of the Gabriel Ash and Hazel Best series by Jo Bannister
A kidnap attempt outside the school gates in broad daylight convinces Gabriel Ash that his renegade wife is trying to steal their sons from him. Only the intervention of his friend Constable Hazel Best kept them safe. It’s a simple if alarming explanation, but is it the truth? Hazel uncovers disturbing information about another crime, the repercussions of which are still threatening innocent lives seventeen years later. Once again Hazel finds herself at loggerheads with her superiors. Did they really conspire to protect a murderer? And this time she isn’t getting the support she needs from Ash. She’d thought they were kindred spirits: now she’s not sure what his motives are.
I was overdue an enjoyable cosy mystery and this one certainly ticked the box. Enjoyable, likeable protagonists and a gripping situation that steadily builds into a major mystery with an exciting denouement.
Spectacle – Book 2 of the Menagerie series by Rachel Vincent
The Savage Spectacle is a private collection of “exotic wildlife.” Specializing in ruthless cryptid cage matches, safari-style creature hunts and living party favors, the Spectacle’s owner, Willem Vandekamp, caters to the forbidden fetishes of the wealthy and powerful. At the Spectacle, any wish can be granted—for the right price. But a number of new exhibits not only create more opportunities for making money, they also pose risks Willem hasn’t yet encountered.
This next slice of the adventures featuring Delilah, a shape-shifting human with disturbing powers was just as engrossing as the first book – and I’m looking forward to reading the final book in the trilogy, which is the Netgalley arc I will be reviewing in due course.
Fifty-One by Chris Barnham
Jacob Wesson is a timecop from 2040, sent back to WWII London to stop the assassination of Britain’s war leader. The assignment plays out with apparent ease, but the jump home goes wrong, leading to a series of events that not only puts in jeopardy the outcome of WWII, but all history…
This intelligent, well written time travelling adventure is not only a thumping good read, but raises some interesting questions on the nature of time travelling that I’ve never seen so fully explored. I was also very impressed with Barnham’s depiction of war-torn London in 1940 and the 2040 equivalent.
My posts last week:
Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
Thursday Doors https://jeanreinhardt.wordpress.com/2018/08/24/thursday-doors-110/ Regulars will know this quirky series is a firm favourite – but these walkways are just lovely… you can imagine all sorts of magical adventures occurring in these surroundings.
…my dream dinner guests list… prob’ly change again by next week!… https://seumasgallacher.com/2018/08/24/my-dream-dinner-guests-list-probly-change-again-by-next-week/ Seumas has fun playing this game – this is a dinner party I’d love to attend. What about you – who would you invite to your dream dinner?
#writerproblems: catching #characters with a coda of giveaway #countdown https://jeanleesworld.com/2018/08/23/writerproblems-catching-characters-with-a-coda-of-giveaway-countdown/ Jean gives her take on integrating family life with that of a working writer – and reminds us of a fabulous opportunity to get hold of her marvellous debut novel. I’ve been lucky to read the arc and will be reviewing it in due course. In the meantime, do keep a lookout for it – it’s a wonderful, quirky read…
Spraoi 2018 – Scotch is back! https://inesemjphotography.com/2018/08/24/spraoi-2018-scotch-is-back/ No – we’re not talking the drink, we’re talking a Dutch band playing at a free street festival in Waterford, Ireland. These photos sum up the joy and passion of live music for both the participants and those watching…
Do you Reread? https://emeraldcitybookreview.com/2018/08/do-you-re-read-2.html This is an interesting question – if you get down as far as the comments, you’ll find my views on this subject there. But I am always intrigued to know if readers go back to books they love…
Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and have a great week.
This children’s book is a direct sequel to Frances Hodgeson Burnett’s famous novel The Secret Garden which was a favourite of mine, after my grandmother read it to me way back in 1963. So would I enjoy revisiting this world by another author over a generation later?
It’s 1939, and the occupants of the Craven Home for Orphaned Children have been evacuated to Misselthwaite Hall, a fancy manor in the English countryside, to escape the Blitz. Emmie would hardly call the orphanage “home,” but her heart breaks knowing that leaving Craven means leaving her beloved cat, Lucy. Away from everything she’s ever known and trapped in imposing Misselthwaite, Emmie finds herself more miserable than ever. But soon she starts discovering the secrets of the house-a boy who cries in the night, a diary written by a girl named Mary, and a garden. A very secret garden…
Emmie is certainly a worthy successor to poor, spoilt Mary Lennox. She has edges that have nothing to do with being unduly pampered – quite the opposite in fact. While the adults around her are quite tough with her, I did like the fact that the people running the orphanage aren’t depicted as evilly intent on crushing the spirit of their charges. While their form of punishment may jar with modern norms, at the time it wasn’t uncommon for children to be regularly slapped or beaten with a slipper or strap for transgressions. I could see the adults were all feeling frayed and coping with the practicalities of moving twenty orphans to the other end of the country must have been a daunting task, given that half the staff were off ‘doing their bit’.
Any grizzles? Well I do have a problem with the cover, which is rather cute and girly and gives the impression that this is lighthearted, fluffy read when its nothing of the sort.
Given the book’s relationship with the original story, several characters feature in this sequel that had major parts in the first book. I very much enjoyed seeing Webb’s take on how they went on to develop after original The Secret Garden ended. However, this book is far more than merely an additional riff of that story. Webb deals with all sorts of gnarly issues in this well written, nuanced novel that covers an interesting time in our history. What happened to hundreds and thousands of pets all over the country in towns, for instance – which directly impacted on the adults’ attitude towards one small stray cat. There is also a sudden death, which winded me. I kept expecting the character, who had played a crucial role in Emmie’s happiness, to pop up at the end of the book, declaring that his reported death had been a muddle and it was all going to end happily ever after. It didn’t. I admire Webb enormously for not sugar-coating the bleak fact that during that time lots of men were killed – and kind, caring responsible fathers, sons and brothers were swallowed up by the mincing machine that was WWII never to return. Through Emmie’s shocked eyes, we get a ringside seat into how those left behind coped with such a grievous loss and put their lives back together again.
This is a well-written, though provoking story on dealing with loss – a major theme in Return to The Secret Garden – and Webb does an excellent job of showing the consequences of war in an unsentimental, entertaining way.
I read a number of these a long time ago, before the internet existed or I even considered there’d be a time when I would share my love of books and reading with numbers of other people who also take part in this most solitary of hobbies. And the rest are books that I read before I really got bitten by the reviewing bug. Either way, I occasionally tell myself that I’ll go back and reread them some day to write the review. But if I’m honest – I probably won’t because I generally don’t reread books, in case the second time around they disappoint. In which case, I will have gained two miserable memories – the one of revisiting a favourite book and finding it isn’t that impressive after all, but even more devastatingly – it will also have smirched the lovely glow around my recollection of the delight when I read the book first time around.
In no particular order…
Cider With Rose by Laurie Lee
Cider with Rosie is a wonderfully vivid memoir of childhood in a remote Cotswold village, a village before electricity or cars, a timeless place on the verge of change. Growing up amongst the fields and woods and characters of the place, Laurie Lee depicts a world that is both immediate and real and belongs to a now-distant past.
I read this when I was fourteen and immediately fell in love with the book and the depiction of a lost time in rural Gloucestershire. Much later, when pregnant with my daughter, I encountered Lee’s essay on when his daughter was born and cried as I read it. I was probably a tad hormonal, but it is beautifully written…
The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Summering with a fellow schoolboy on a great English estate, Leo, the hero of L. P. Hartley’s finest novel, encounters a world of unimagined luxury. But when his friend’s beautiful older sister enlists him as the unwitting messenger in her illicit love affair, the aftershocks will be felt for years.
Another wonderfully written book – a real mixture of humour and bitter poignancy and the ending is a shock. The dialogue is a masterclass in writing subtext and if you haven’t ever read it, do so. Set before WWI, it is another lost world, where poor little Leo is adrift in a social shark tank and is shamefully exploited by people who should have known better.
Requiem for a Wren by Neville Shute
Sidelined by a wartime injury, fighter pilot Alan Duncan reluctantly returns to his parents’ remote sheep station in Australia to take the place of his brother Bill, who died a hero in the war. But his homecoming is marred by the suicide of his parents’ parlormaid, of whom they were very fond. Alan soon realizes that the dead young woman is not the person she pretended to be…
I’d studied A Town Like Alice at school and loved it, so went looking for everything Shute wrote, which was a fair amount. I loved most of it – but Requiem for a Wren stole a particular portion of my heart, as the story depicted all too clearly the personal cost of war. If you ever encounter a battered Neville Shute novel in a second-hand shop – they occur with surprisingly regularity – scoop it up. There is a solid reason why he was such a popular author for thirty-odd years in the last century.
Chocky by John Wyndham
Matthew, they thought, was just going through a phase of talking to himself. And, like many parents, they waited for him to get over it, but it started to get worse. Mathew’s conversations with himself grew more and more intense – it was like listening to one end of a telephone conversation while someone argued, cajoled and reasoned with another person you couldn’t hear. Then Matthew started doing things he couldn’t do before, like counting in binary-code mathematics. So he told them about Chocky – the person who lived in his head.
Another wonderful author, who is famous for The Day of the Triffids, but wrote a number of other really enjoyable science fiction stories. Again, I loved them all – but Chocky was a particular favourite.
Rider at the Gate – Book 1 of the Nighthorses duology by C.J. Cherryh
Stranded on a distant planet that abounds with fertile farmland, human colonists appear to be in paradise. But all the native animals communicate by telepathy, projecting images that drive humans mad. Only Nighthorses stand between civilization and madness. When a flare of human emotion spreads to all the horses, chaos erupts.
I fell in love with C.J. Cherryh’s writing from the first sentence – and this is her at her unbeatable best. I’d also include the sequel Cloud’s Rider, which is another gem.
Sundiver – Book 1 of the Uplift Saga by David Brin
No species has ever reached for the stars without the guidance of a patron–except perhaps mankind. Did some mysterious race begin the uplift of humanity aeons ago? Circling the sun, under the caverns of Mercury, Expedition Sundiver prepares for the most momentous voyage in history–a journey into the boiling inferno of the sun.
I loved this take on what might befall Earth creatures should we encounter alien cultures – and how terrestrial species other than humans might fare.
Falling Free – Book 4 of the Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Leo Graf was an effective engineer…Safety Regs weren’t just the rule book he swore by; he’d helped write them. All that changed on his assignment to the Cay Habitat. Leo was profoundly uneasy with the corporate exploitation of his bright new students till that exploitation turned to something much worse. He hadn’t anticipated a situation where the right thing to do was neither save, nor in the rules… Leo Graf adopted 1000 quaddies now all he had to do was teach them to be free
Another talented speculative fiction author, whose groundbreaking writing has taken me to wonderful worlds. I have reviewed a number of the Miles Vorkosigan adventures – but this particular story featuring the quaddies has always had a special place in my heart…
What about you – have you any books that you wish you had reviewed? Or books you dare not reread in case they aren’t quite as wonderful as you recall?
This is the first time I’ve picked up a Stephen Fry novel, and it was an enjoyable, if slightly uneven, experience. Thumbing through the opening pages, I noticed that this book was first published in 1996, which begins to make sense when considering some of the faultlines running through this alternate history offering.
Michael Young is convinced his brilliant history thesis will win him a doctorate, a pleasant academic post, a venerable academic publisher and his beloved girlfriend Jane. A historian should know better than to imagine that he can predict the future.
Leo Zuckerman is an ageing physicist obsessed with the darkest period in human history, utterly driven by his fanatical hatred of one man. A lover’s childish revenge and the breaking of a rotten clasp cause the two men to meet in a blizzard of swirling pages. Pages of history. When they come together nothing – past, present or future – will ever be the same again.
And there you have the blurb. The book contains an intriguing premise – two men decide, for very different reasons, to tamper with history by ensuring the one man responsible for the rise of Nazi Germany is never born. However, the result isn’t what they bargained for… As a former history student, I thoroughly enjoyed Fry’s thorough approach to the historical content and had no problem with the leisurely start. And the conclusion that Fry comes to is certainly thought provoking – I’ve been thinking a lot about the book since I put it down.
Fry successfully establishes Michael’s character as a wunderkind bedevilled with increasing insecurities as his peers are rapidly catching up, if not overhauling his precocious giftedness. Inevitably, given the sub-genre, the narrative timeline is speckled with flashbacks which are ably handled. And it goes without saying that the writing is excellent – actually, that shouldn’t go without saying. Excellent writing should always be acknowledged and I’d be selling Fry short if I just gave a nod in that direction because we all know that the man has an intellect the size of Greece’s overdraft.
So far, so good. The protagonist has been well established, with plenty of depth. We have met with Leo and there’s been a couple of interesting plot twists – and then the novel prose comes to abrupt end and I was confronted with a film script. The action immediately speeded up as I witnessed a major emotional confrontation spool through in this script mode – feeling completely unconnected to the characters. Later in the novel, there is another, longer film script interlude, which also had the effect of alienating me from the action – a real shame as I’d really enjoyed the book up to this point.
I am aware that my extreme aversion to this literary device is subjective – probably connected to the fact that books are my first and major love, while films are okay, I suppose…. However, I did find the film script sections really spoilt the book for me. Having said that, up to the point it all went Courier I found the depiction of the alternate world engrossing and chilling in equal measure. Fry is good at writing minor characters memorably and the flashes of humour helped alleviate what could have been a grim read, given the subject matter.
All in all, it’s an interesting book with a fascinating premise and if you enjoy alternate histories, I highly recommend it. Who knows – you may even enjoy the scripted sections…