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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A TRULY GREAT NOVEL?

by Margo Fuke

 
I expect that, like me, you've read quite a few interesting and intelligent reviews recently featuring well-known books or authors. Well relax. This certainly isn't intelligent though I hope it's interesting, at least it's shortish! It isn't even about a book – well not a whole book that is. For that, go on line. Most of it has faded from my memory leaving only the awareness of horror in one small part of it. A part dismissed by the reviewers with a comment 'bullied by his father and at school'.
 
Have you guessed yet? The book is Engleby and it's by Sebastian Faulks. I bailed out of most of his books by the end of Chapter I and part of me wishes I had done the same with this one. To put it into context, Engleby, bullied, gets a scholarship to a public school, bullied, and then to Cambridge, where we meet him for the first time. The first-person narrative is filled with tiny detail – irrelevant to the outsider – but isn't that life? I was wondering why Faulks bothered, when the murder comes on stage. That's pretty irrelevant too, just a device for further investigation of Engleby's character, the whodunit being intentionally obvious.
 
There's the key word – character. He's intriguing. You care, and wonder why you care, about him. As you look more carefully, you realise that among this plethora of detail there isn't one single meanful conversation. Who is this alone-in-a-crowd person with a drug habit funded by petty theft?  I wept with him as his father used him as a punchball; I died inside with him as he was singled out at school and I cringed as the bullying escalated to the horrific, worthy of Tom Brown's Schooldays. He, surely, came to see himself as unworthy of better treatment. I ached for his loneliness, of which he was probably only subconsciously aware. I, almost, accepted his solution to the Jennifer-problem as a natural progression.

I told myself that my reaction was merely a tribute to Faulks' brilliant writing, that such bullying could only exist in fiction. Then I went back to my set-aside book, a biography of Lord Mountbatten, who was murdered in his 70s, along with one of his grandchildren and the boatboy while on a family fishing trip. He described an incident from his early naval career. They all slept in hammocks, large cocoon type hammocks, and one 'prank' was to let a hammock down suddenly so the sleeper crashed to the deck - an age old tradition! But wooden decks were now cold, hard steel and one unlucky youth crashed so hard he was paralysed for life. Only then was the custom outlawed!
 
Just the wrong timing for me, this dangerous, pointless, institutionalised bullying stopped me comforting myself with the 'fiction' label.
 
Now I have only to read the bald words ' bullied for some time' in the press to be thrown back into Engleby's world.

Isn't this the mark of a truly great novel? Not just that we 'enjoyed' it. But that we came out of it with some new understanding added to who we are? I certainly think so.

 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Brontë Family

by Beverly Townsend


           About 10 years ago I was in the West Riding of Yorkshire and visited the Brontë Parsonage Museum at Haworth. It was the home of the Brontё family who lived there at the beginning of the nineteenth-century. The surrounding area is wild and beautiful; leaning wind-swept trees and picturesque moors stretch for miles.

Patrick Brontё (originally Brunty) became the Anglican curate of Haworth in 1820. He and his wife Maria had six children. The two eldest sisters died young of tuberculosis and Maria died of cancer aged 38. This left the four youngest children; Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell. Their tragic beginnings fostered in them an ability to create and write gothic stories of orphans, spirits and haunting. The children were close and wrote stories about imaginary towns in minute writing in miniature books the size of a matchbox which still exist today.

The three sisters first published a book of their poetry in 1846 under the masculine pseudonyms of Currer (Charlotte), Ellis (Emily) and Acton (Anne) Bell. The book did not sell well.

In 1847 Charlotte published ‘Jane Eyre‘, Emily ‘Wuthering Heights’ and Anne ‘Agnes Grey’. This was after being rejected by at least a dozen publishers.

Life in Haworth was very basic in the time of the Brontë’s. There was no sewage system and the well water was contaminated resulting in serious illness for the population. Life expectancy at the time was less than 25 years and infant mortality was around 41% of children under six months of age.

Anne wasn’t as celebrated as her two sisters. She wrote ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ in 1849. She suffered poor health and died in 1849 aged 29.

Emily was described as timid and enjoyed wondering the wild landscape of the moors around Haworth. She died of consumption in 1848 aged 30.

Charlotte was the most prolific writer. ’Jane Eyre’ was a great success and she visited London in 1851 to promote the book at the request of her publisher. In 1849 she published ‘Shirley’ and in 1853 ‘Villette’. ‘The Professor’ was published after her death. She married her father’s curate Arthur Nichols in 1854 and was pregnant at the time of her death in 1855 aged 38.

Branwell is described as an artist, author and casual worker. Although it appears he was as creative as his siblings he became addicted to alcohol and laudanum. He died of tuberculosis in 1848 aged 31.

My favourite Brontë book is ‘Jane Eyre’ which I have read more than once. The story is about a governess who falls in love with her employer. It is believed to be based on Charlotte’s own life when she worked as a governess in Brussels and fell in love with her employer’s husband Constantin Heger.

Although they wrote relatively few books it seems the mystique of the Brontë family is infinite. Little did they know that their home in Haworth would one day become a museum and place of pilgrimage for hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world each year.

 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Book Review: Dark Winter by David Mark

by Carol Thomas

Dark Winter was on my kindle recommended list. It had a lot of rave reviews, had a high sales rank position, it was a genre I loved, had a convincing synopsis and was only 20p. It was screaming at me to buy it.

It started off strongly. It is the first of a series about DS Aector Mcavoy.  I was so excited by the first few chapters that I told the author via Twitter that I was enjoying the book.
Soon doubt started to creep in.

The book is written in present tense which I found confusing. Reading something like “Mcavoy shakes his head frantically,” doesn’t work for me. It is a hard tense to write and I don’t think David pulled it off.
Another thing that started to become annoying was the level of swearing. I am not against swearing in novels if it is necessary, and I am aware that police officers might actually swear a lot but I think the author might have got a little carried away. The female boss was also a very clichéd character, portrayed as a man-eater.

I really wanted to love the book; it had been a while since I had read anything that had blown me away but I only managed to get half-way through before I gave up on it.  
Mark David seems to be doing very well with this book, and the reviews show that there are loads of people who love it, including some famous Authors.

Maybe it was just me being fussy!