Katarina Bivald – The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend


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…And they all read happily ever after in small-town Iowa

The Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendI received this enchanting, quirky, feel-good romance with a definite fairy-tale structure from the publisher, Chatto and Windus, via NetGalley, in return for an honest review.

And my honest review is as cheerily warm and appreciative as the book itself

Anyone who knows my book reading habits knows I have a predilection for hefty, often existentially suffering lit-ficcy stuff.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t be utterly delighted by much more cheerful fare – as long as it has a bit of bite and tang along with the sweetness – and this has, oh it has, because of the well drawn, individual characters, some of whom are distinctly crotchety and odd-ball.

Sara Lindqvist is a shy, spinsterish Swedish woman who adores reading, and worked in a bookshop. She strikes up an epistolary friendship with an elderly woman from Iowa, Amy Harris, who is also a great lover of books, and lives in a small town, Broken Wheel, which is dying. Much of their letter writing exchange, which goes on for over 2 years, is about books, and they send these to each other. Amy is clearly the kind of person with a big heart, and a lot of wisdom and patience, who rather enjoys the small foibles of humankind, and nonetheless has visions of wider horizons.

John says I think about historic injustices too much. Maybe he’s right, but it’s just that it doesn’t feel historic to me. We never seem to be able to accept responsibility for them. First, we say that’s just how things are, then we shrug our shoulders and say that’s just how things were, that things are different now. No thanks to us, I want to reply, but no one ever seems to want to hear that

Eventually, Sara sets out for a 2 month holiday to visit Amy.

Unfortunately Amy happened to die whilst Sara was en route…………..

So, what IS this book about – small people with a fair share of problems, a lot of humanity, and the fairy tale of a person who is the glue who brings people together. Amy was that person for Broken Wheel, and Sara, to her surprise, discovers that she is some kind of combination of both fairy godmother AND Cinderella, and, indeed, that pretty well everyone can go to the ball!

Tipping a definite nod to the that true story of how bibliophiles engaged across the ocean – Helen Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road, The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend…., features both the letters between Sara and Amy, and the strange and magical account of what might happen when a passionate reader rides into town with her cavalry of books, and somehow magic happens

Rest assured, to those who dislike the genre, this is not ‘magical realism’, it is, however, realism made out of ‘in an ideal world’ rather than realism full of grit and despair.

Flicr Commons

Flicr Commons

Passionate readers will delight at the appearance of all sorts of books, from the very highest of brows, to the most populist of beach reads.

The last thing Sara had done was get hold of a new shelf, on which she placed every unreadable book she could find, alongside every Pulitzer Prize-winner, Nobel Prize recipient and nominee for the Booker Prize

First-time author Katarina Bivald had her book published in her native language (Swedish, of course) in 2013. And I can offer no higher praise to her translator Alice Menzies than to say I had to keep checking the title page in disbelief that this was a novel ‘in translation’ Beautifully done.

And Bivald, like her heroine, is also a bibliophile who is not quite sure whether she doesn’t prefer books to people……….though the evident generosity in her writing, and her viewpoint shows she rather loves both

Bivald’s lovely warmth, humour, whimsicality and heart in the creation of her small-town community reminded me, yes, of the Hanff book, yes. of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but also of Armistead Maupin’s wonderful community in his ‘Tales of The City’ novels. It’s not just the subject matter which brings up comparisons, its also the joyousness, the heart, the humour and the artistry

We have perhaps become too used to thinking of Scandinavian writers as being the source of noir crime fiction. If this book is an example of Scandi RomCom – bring it on!

Sara couldn’t help but wonder what life might be like if you couldn’t daydream about Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy (how had she decided on that name? One of literary history’s most inexplicable mysteries), because you yourself had created him.

If I were to be a little picky, I think the book might have been a tad tighter as we got towards the end we are inevitably getting towards, and Bivald could perhaps have stepped on the accelerator, as within the last few chapters we know the destination, and kind of want journey’s end, rather than to admire the view one last time, but this is a small observation. 4 ½ stars, easy (rounded up to 5)Katarina Bivald

And, unless you are lucky enough to be a NetGalleyer or some other recipient of ARCS, Patience, I’m afraid, is needed as publication is on June 18th, and I will flag a reminder as the date approacheth…

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend Amazon UK
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend Amazon USA

Tana French – In The Woods


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Pointers to what she will become……..

In The WoodsI encountered Irish writer Tana French only recently, when her fourth book, Broken Harbour, got a rave review from a blogger who is firmly wedded to good writing, rather than genre fiction. Go see FleurInHerWorld As this is my position too, I was swayed, and blown away by French’s version of crime fiction, police procedural and psychological thriller, all carefully showing she is a literary fiction writer, who chooses to write in this kind of subject matter area.

Another blogger then pushed me over to her fifth, currently latest book, The Secret Place, which grabbed me even more. And you should visit that persuasive other blogger, CleopatraLovesBooks

And so it is that I’ve gone back to explore French’s progression as a writer, via her first book, and will, for sure, progress to books 2 + 3

For those unfamiliar with her work, Book 1, In The Woods, is of course the perfect place to start.

Old_growth_forest_scenicFrench’s territory is murder, and the police investigations undertaken by Dublin’s Murder Squad. She has chosen not to follow one particular detective and partner through all the subsequent investigations; rather, she focuses on the squad itself and a different pair of detectives will come to the foreground in each book, and others in the pool may stay as a background note across several investigations, be bit players, or come to take stage centre.

This is a fascinating and excellent approach, as it does mean that the reader can start reading her books in any order, without thinking they have missed vital back history, often a problem when one particular main character is followed in a series.

There are a couple of central cores to the three books I have read so far – the story of each individual main detective, including their back history which will slowly be revealed and will explain who they are, and why. There will also be the crucial relationship between the two detectives themselves, and their relationship within the murder squad as a whole. By this, French wonderfully covers the interior workings of a central character, how they are in a significant one-to-one relationship with a working colleague, and how they, and indeed the two of them, are within a wider community of others. And then, of course, in parallel is the investigation, the crime, where the victim and their story will be teased out, the thread to connect them with the perpetrator worked clear from all the potential many threads which will need to be explored and investigated

French’s own background is as an actor, and, to me, there is a correlation here between 3 kinds of theatrical focus a performer may have – there is first of all the interior, which may be expressed as soliloquy, a performer alone upon a stage. Then there is the immediate focus of `small other’ where there is a relationship between two individuals on a stage, and, however tangled, the lines of that relationship may be clearly seen. Finally, there is the relationship of the group of characters themselves, cross currents, tangles and all – and then this may be taken out even wider, in plays where the fourth wall is broken down, and the characters acknowledge the wider world which incorporates the audience as another collective. French does not just set her crime investigation as an isolated event, as so far, wider concerns which may be present in society are examined

In this particular story the victim is a young girl, and a particularly horrible crime. As all investigations must, initial focus is on the family itself, and that family is quite strange.

What is also going on, as part of the whole Celtic Tiger economic phenomenon, and the collapse which happened, is a story around community expansion, business interests, corruption and politics.

And, central stage in this novel, two detectives, a man and a woman, who from the off have been firm and platonic friends. Cassie Maddox has, like another female detective in the squad in French’s fifth book, challenges because she is a woman in an environment which is aggressively old fashioned and macho, still. Rob Ryan her work partner, has the history of a terrible and unresolved crime which happened back in his childhood, to two of his friends. He has, in theory at least, found ways to deal with something which devastated him, his family and the families of his two dead friends. However, because the crime was never resolved, and became a cold case, with neither the bodies discovered, nor a perpetrator found, there has been no closure, for anyone from that community. And it also means that any murder involving a child is one which could completely shatter all Ryan’s coping strategies.

These three children own the summer…This is their territory, and they rule it wild and lordly as young animals; they scramble through its trees and hide-and-seek in its hollows all the endless day long, and all night in their dreams.

They are running into legend, into sleepover stories and nightmares parents never hear. Down the faint lost paths you would never find alone, skidding round the tumbled stone walls, they stream calls and shoelaces behind them like comet-trails. And who is it waiting on the riverbank with his hands in the willow branches, whose laughter tumbles swaying from a branch high above, whose is the face in the undergrowth in the corner of your eye, built of light and leaf-shadow, there and gone in a blink?

I suspect, had I read this book without having read French’s latest two, I would have five starred it. Because I know where she now is as a writer, my bar for her is set very high. In this one, I think she is a little closer to the more formulaic writing in genre, than she now is, a little more obvious in her choices. It is however a wonderful first novel, and, as ever, her understanding of psychology, relationship, narrative drive are excellent.

She is a writer who seems to focus more on how the ordinary man or woman crosses Author Tana French pictured in Dublin's Grafton St.KOB.3/4/8the line into violence and there is less focus on graphic gore and deranged psychopathology than often litters the genre. And that external restraint, and more meticulous examination of the process of crossing the line which is certainly a hallmark of book 4 and 5, is what I think of as a kind of sophistication in her as a writer, not completely in place in book 1.

However, still recommended, still highly recommended

In The Woods Amazon UK
In The Woods Amazon USA

Our Friends In The North (DVD of BBC Production)


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When Memory Turns Out To Be Vindicated…………..

Our Friends BoxBack in 1996 I was completely glued to BBC’s 9 part drama series, Our Friends In The North, produced by Charles Pattinson, directed by Stuart Urban, Pedr James and Simon Cellan Jones, and scorchingly written by Peter Flannery, based on his original idea and stage version for the RSC in 1982. At that time, I knew it was one of, or possibly THE best TV drama series I’d ever seen.

OFITN, which had had a hugely checkered, difficult, stop-go history at ever reaching transmission at all, for over 12 years, was an examination of British Politics, corruption in local government, central government, the Met, an indictment of class and the North-South divide, far-left politics, old-style Labour, new-style spin, and the rise of Thatcherism. It covered a period from 1964 and the Wilson government, – the `white hot heat of technology’ when Britain was cool and a country of potential, to 1995, when the opportunities offered in the 60s for a more egalitatarian society had all gone, and the politics of a different class had resulted in `there’s no such thing as society’

It was a drama tackling serious issues, but what made it magnificent drama, rather than merely `talking heads analysis’ was that it was based around the lives of 4 working class or lower middle Geordies, a group of friends in their late teens in 1964. Over 30 odd years the friends, two of them on the verge of University or already in academia, one indulged one dreaming of musical stardom, and one blighted by a violent, deprived, alcoholic upbringing, meet, connect, divurge, meet again and follow different ideologies and trajectories.

Eccleston, Craig and a bad hair day in 1970

Eccleston, Craig and a bad hair day in 1970

That this still astonishing, still stunning, still thought-provoking and gut punching drama was released onto DVD, is probably down to the fortunate result of 2 of the 4 leads becoming pop-culture stars – Christopher Ecclestone, as well as being known for serious, intense, quality work, – Shallow Grave, Cracker, Jude amongst others – and also the 9th Doctor Who, played the politically focused Nicky Hutchinson in OFITN. But it probably did the fortunes of the release onto DVD no harm at all, that the most emotionally hard-punching, heart-breaking role was given to an unknown, only a couple of years or so out of drama school, called Daniel Craig….For anyone with a complete indifference to Hollywood blockbusters, who has, moreover, been stranded on a desert island without any access to the broadcast media, for the last 10 years, Craig became James Bond in 2005. Geordie Peacock, his character in OFITN is a far cry from the muscle man, secret agent and swoon factor of Bond

Nor have the careers of the two other `Friends’ sunk without trace – Mark Strong, playing wannabe a pop star Tosker – credits include Prime Suspect, Fever Pitch, Emma – his is a solid, working career rather than the stardom which happened to Craig. And Gina McKee (the only genuine North-Easterner of the four) whose Mary goes through the most steady progression into self-awareness and growth of the four, again has a solid rather than starry career (though award winning) and works as much in theatre as media – The Forsyte Saga, The Street, Waking The Dead.

Supporting the 4 relative unknowns were a wealth of amazing, established actors, including Tony Haygarth, Malcolm McDowell, Alun Armstrong, Peter Vaughan, David Bradley

Unfortunately the YouTube upload in sections has rather poor sound quality

A gripping, riveting storyline, based on real scandals around bribery and corruption – T. Dan Smith, John Poulson, the attempt to clean up Soho and the Countryman enquiry into corruption in the Met, there is a lot of sex, a lot of violence, an explosion of wigs and funny fashion to be recollected – and a wonderful, evocative soundtrack of 30 years of music as commentary to events on screen.

Friends in 1995

Friends in 1995

If I were to be a little picky, yes, the `Geordie’ accents of the 3 male friends are at times (particularly in the earlier episodes) a little ouchy, and there are a few technical hitches in sound quality in some scenes which mean that I was rapidly turning up and turning down the volume as the occasional scene descended into something approaching a whisper whilst the following scene boomed out blaringly till the level was taken back down, but, hey, these are minor. And then there are the wigs…but these are as much a pleasure as a pain

It’s a cracking, cracking drama, ye kna, man…………….

However, poor Statesiders, be aware this does not seem to be available in a DVD version outside Region 2 (Europe) so unless your player is all regions or you know someone with an all region player, these delights are not for you………….though you can at least see some of the done in sections uploads on YouTube

Our Friends In The North Amazon UK
Our Friends In The North Amazon USA – Region 2, Europe

Jane Smiley – Early Warning


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The low-level hum of a mushroom cloud

At the conclusion of my review of Some Luck, the first volume of Jane Smiley’s trilogy of 100 years of America, as seen through a single farming family from Iowa , I wrote the following :

It was when I finished Some Luck, and sat down to think about what Smiley had done, and the manner of her doing it, that I realised how brilliantly the novel had been crafted. She is not a writer who stuns with her showy brilliance, but one who, when you stop and look at the piece, has crafted beautifully, properly, harmoniously. There is integrity to her work. And I can’t wait for volume 2, which will cover the 50’s to the 80’s, and where, I suspect, the sense of timelessness which still clung to the early part of Some Luck, will be wrenched asunder

Early WarningAnd now, having concluded Early Morning, the second volume, I see no reason to change my earlier opinion about Smiley’s qualities as a writer, nor the difference I thought there would be between the world of Some Luck and the world of Early Morning.

Though Joe, the second son of the initial patriarch and matriarch, Walter and Rosanna Langdon, by continuing to be the one who connects to place, whose prevailing love is the land itself, does seem to try to hold to roots and to history, farming itself is completely different from the scratched out, un-mechanised work his father did.

The focus in Early Warning is the second generation and beyond, that generation affected by the Second World War, the Cold War, whose children would feel the effects of Vietnam, the sexual revolution, gay rights, feminism, the civil rights movement, enormous social and cultural changes.

Smiley continues to allocate a year per chapter, and in that year will snapshot various members of the family, their wider families, friends and work relationships.

I have stayed utterly absorbed. She looks at her individuals in close-up, their lives, loves, and place in society, but at the same time, each of them stands for more. This is both a marvellous narrative, and at the same time a snapshot of society.

There is of course a challenge for the reader who has not read the first volume, as some of the references won’t quite make the same emotional impact, stir the same memories as they will for those who experienced the characters now at centre stage as babies, toddlers, adolescents, young men and women whose natures were forming.

And there are also some challenges simply because you are following several stories, several lives, across thirty years, so it’s harder work for the reader to hold all these stories which are simultaneously going on.

Reese Homestead, photo by Karen Reese Bird from Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation Site

Reese Homestead, photo by Karen Reese Bird from
Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation Site

But the tapestry is, to my mind, a gorgeous and richly patterned one, and what makes it work is Smiley’s integrity, her interest in her characters, and her resistance to going for the easy option of just bombarding the reader with high drama on every page. She is as interested in the small detail of small lives as in the actions happening on a world stage – in fact, more so, as it is the effect of the world stage on the daily lives of ordinary people that form the fabric of this.

I do have one small criticism, to do with the way Smiley, or her editors, have chosen to help the reader keep track of the expanding characters across the generations, as marriages, partnerships, the families of the partners and new births happen. This is done at the start of the book via a family tree which takes the reader from book 1 to the end of this book. This takes an element of surprise from the story, as it might give clues as to who for example lives and who might die, early, simply because they leave no heirs, and we might, given knowledge of the first book, and the time of the second, be able to work out why. As the children of Frank, Joe, Lillian and the others reach maturity we might also be able to predict immediately that someone who appears on the scene as a partner for one of the children is not going to be ‘significant’ simply because the format of the family tree tells you who is going to be the partner who fathers the next generation.

I would have liked to see something along the lines of a tree which gave birthdates, and where applicable, deathdates of all the family in 1953 when this book starts, but no indication of any later births, partnerships etc. And perhaps a ‘mini-tree’ at the end of each year which might record only any changes which happened that year – deaths and births – and which could then be a chapter conclusion, easily found in the book, or in an e-reader, which would be a useful way for the reader to keep track of the ages of the appearing (or departing) characters, and their relationships in the tree at large.

‘Relationships’ being of course a major thread of this book. The land itself, however changed by fashion and global economy, and the lives of family members, however changed by global scattering far from that Iowan beginning, exert tendrils and roots which bind them together.

The title of this book nods to that fear which formed a low-level background, and some-times a right-up-close-and-personal stuff of nightmares, from the Bay of Pigs onwards.

black buzzards

buzzards, flicr, non-commercial use photo by George Pankewytch

Smiley does that shivering thing, where the characters (and the reader) are deep in the minutiae of day-to-day, skating on the thin-ice surface, and suddenly, some film gets whisked aside, and you are face to face with ‘here be monsters’:

What he remembered….was standing near one of the windows and being revisited by a feeling from that trip he took for Arthur to Iran; at the sight of buzzards feasting in the moonlight on some carcass, say a goat, he had known all of a sudden how little intervened between the hot breeze on that runway and death itself. Death had shimmered in the air – as close as his next breath – and in that satin-draped consulate, looking out on Sixty-ninth street, he had felt that once again. Now, he thought, right now, at the Russian Tea Room, it was even closer, if still beyond the boundary. The thought made his hand resting on the table look vivid, still, pale like marble

And no doubt, the times and the changes will run even faster, not to mention the Jane Smiley longscatterings, despite global communications, become even more dizzying, when the third volume takes on the age of the world-wide-web, social media and all the rest.

I received this as an ARC from the Amazon Vine programme UK. Publication date is the 28th April USA/7th May in the UK

Early Warning Amazon UK
Early Warning Amazon USA

Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky – TV adaptation


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Patrick Hamilton’s stunning trilogy beautifully rendered

Twenty Thousand Streets DVDI completely missed this at the time of transmission, possibly because at the time I was unaware of the trilogy of which it was based. And in many ways I am very glad of that, as I do prefer to have read the book on which a film or TV dramatisation has been made, as going to the book afterwards seems to get in the way of my own experience of the original.

Of course the danger of this approach might be the purist reader is forever nitpicking about how badly the book has been served and doesn’t do it justice.

Happily, this is not the case here, and in the main there has been not only a faithfulness to the book, but something added by performance and by the wonderful visual element showing the minutiae of a vanished time

Patrick Hamilton’s book, Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky was originally 3 interlocking books, published over a period of some 5 years, centring around a Fitzrovia pub, The Midnight Bell, in the late 1920s, and telling, from 3 different viewpoints, stories of hopeless love, broken dreams and the aspirations and hardships of ‘little people’, the ordinary lives of those without the benefits of money and education, but with the desire for something better, somewhere……

Bob is the barman at The Midnight Bell self-educating himself, wanting to be a writer. Pretty Jenny, from a very poor background, is initially proud to get a live-in job as a housekeeper and cook to 3 elderly people of means. Warm-hearted, homely Ella is the barmaid at The Midnight Bell. Bob loves ruinous Jenny, who loves no-one, though Bob in turn is beloved by Ella. It’s a kind of much more sparkling, much more witty, much more emotionally, less didactic Huis Clos.

Simon Curtis is a director of fine pedigree from stage, where his credits include the original production of Jim Cartwright’s Road, TV – credits include BBC’s Cranford and film – My Week With Marilyn.

Kevin Elyot was a fine writer (My Night With Reg) – and wisely here uses much of Hamilton’s sparkling, precise dialogue, lifted from the trilogy, and does not seek to impose his own voice. He prunes, shapes and guides, trusting in the source material.

All performances are assured, Bryan Dick as sweet, charming Bob, far too susceptible to the twin delights of a pretty ankle and the alcohol he serves, Zoe Tapper as ravishingly pretty, dramatically damaged Jenny, and, especially Phil Davis, always worth watching, here, more dapper, less outwardly seedy than his usual casting, but still definitely a bit creepy, as Ernest Eccles, erstwhile admirer of the stand-out, heart-breakingly must-stay-upbeat Ella, beautifully played by Sally Hawkins

Cast of 20,000

The last section of the piece, Ella’s story, The Plains of Cement, as in the book itself, is the one which best manages the balance between humour, pathos and a kind of anxious terror. Davis’ horribly lonely Eccles is both repulsive and inviting of pity, and the scenes between him and Hawkins’ overwhelmed, not quite sure what is going on Ella are both funny and creepy, and I found myself with anxiously thumping heart resonating with Ella’s troubled confusion, bewildered by it all.

The structure of the 3 stories is beautifully woven together. If I have one minor criticism, it is that the end of the piece half suggests a sense of missed opportunity for Bob, which is not suggested for him, in Hamilton’s book – it may well be the reader’s, and indeed, the viewer’s perception, but it is not something which is made part of Bob’s perception.

The DVD has been uploaded in entirety (in small sections) to You Tube, I thought it was worth getting to play as a seamless whole in good definition, but at least the You Tube gives a sneak preview and allows you to make your choice!

Highly recommended

Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky DVD Amazon UK
Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky Blu-Ray Amazon USA

Gordon Burn – Alma Cogan


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Fine writing and theme – but is it quite a novel? And, perhaps more pertinently, is it quite ethical?

Gordon_Burn_-_Alma_CoganI read this first quite a long time ago, when it was first published, 1991, and it stayed on my shelves as I thought at some point it might be a re-read. A recent book club choice, its time came, and I found myself not quite so sure the second time around.

Burn was certainly a writer of intelligence, provoking unease in the reader, in part to do with his often unsettling subject matter, but I suspect he is more of a sociologist, a philosopher exploring themes, and, of course, an insightful, incisive journalist (he was) more than a writer of novels.

Alma Cogan was, in the 50s and early 60s, very much a star, in a kind of wholesome family entertainment way which hardly seems to exist anymore. Known as ‘the girl with the giggle in her voice’, she was 4 times the winner of The New Musical Express’s Female Vocalist of the Year competition. Born in Whitechapel in 1932 to a fiercely ambitious Romanian Jewish stage mother, Alma was quickly winning contests, and famous for her glamour. By the early 60’s, with the rise of The Beatles, R+B and teen culture, she was falling out of mainstream favour, though once she had been at the epicentre of popular culture high society. She died young of ovarian cancer in 1966. Quite quickly, a fan culture grew up around her, and she was seen as iconic of a time and place – a little search online reveals her fan industry is still active.

Burn’s book assumes she did not die, and is, in the late 1980s, living a fading, out of the limelight life. The Alma of Burn’s book looks back on her own life, examining a Britain which has gone, where the glamour of the limelight hides the darker side of celebrity and the voracious, obsessive world of fandom. What has gone is not the darker side of celebrity – that has, of course, grown, it is the innocence that believes the shiny face of glamour is real. This Alma is a more intelligent, self-aware and even self-mocking voice than the ‘real Alma’ image presented at the time.

The book disturbed me for a couple of reasons, despite Burn’s brilliance as a writer analysing the spirit of the times through a cleverly structured invention. The book won the Whitbread Prize in the year of its publication. Although he doesn’t play fast and loose with the real Alma’s life, and although it is absolutely made clear at the start of the book that she died in 1966 so all else is invention, the less than flattering making fast and loose with Alma and her relationship with her mother, may well have been highly disturbing to surviving family members.

The second reason, is that as part of Burn’s examination of the darker side of celebrity itself – not so much the darker side of the celebrities, more the dark nature of us, our obsession with it, and our obsession with the seamy and the sordid – obsession with those who become famous for their misdeeds, rather than their talents – he weaves in The Moors Murders of 1966, and particularly the murder of one of the children, Lesley Ann Downey, with a song of Alma’s. The use of a real event – and even the transcript of the tape of her killing which Hindley and Brady made, within the book, seems distasteful, somehow a further abuse of a life cut terribly and violently short, used as a novelist’s device

This book is a very pertinent examination of the whole industry of fame, celebrity culture and how it has changed and developed, and a microscopic dissection of the shadow side of celebrity, the vicarious and slightly sinister quality of fandom. It certainly fulfils one purpose of art – to shock out of complacency, and to force those who encounter it to think, reflect, ponder, and become discomfited, uncomfortable. It does not, at all achieve another purpose which is found in some art – that is, to raise, inspire and aspire to something finer in our nature.

3 ½ rounded to 4 – it is a much more superior novel than ‘okay’ but ‘like’ is not really an appropriate response!

Addendum to review published on the Amazons

It took me an age from reading the book, firstly, to review it at all, because I needed some time to disentangle myself from the reading and reflecting experience enough to assess it. And then it took longer to decide whether it would make this blog or not.

Regular readers know I only review here what I recommend and say ‘read/listen to/watch this’ about, and that I don’t post reviews on here for what I’m personally neutral or negative about – though that indeed may happen on the Amazons.

The problem with the Burn book is that though there is much I admire about it, the reading experience raised a lot of discomfort, distaste and often painful reflection and analysis, which has continued to disturb and perplex me. It is that, the undeniable potency of the book, what Burn is saying, and how he says it, that in the end earns a guarded place here.

I’ve spend days wrestling with that old chestnut which I’m sure we all do to death in our heads not to mention in the cups discussions, essays, dissertations and the like ‘What Is Art FOR, what Is Its Purpose’

There are of course a multiplicity of answers, but one, for me, IS that it makes me look, think, feel, reflect, experience anew.Sometimes that experience may be uplifting, life-enhancing, about growth, development and possibility – and sometimes it may be absolutely the reverse, a kind of diminishment, a kind of distaste, despair – but also a daring to stare into the face of a teeming darkness which is also part of our complex humanity; perhaps a place too terrible to visit often.

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living from www.damienhirst.com

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living
Damien Hirst website

Unsurprisingly, Burn was a friend of that artist who has never been afraid to shock (is he charlatan, is he some kind of truth teller?) Damien Hirst

Burn was a lacerating writer whose work is always dark. He was notable for writing not only fiction (which he used to explore cultural and ethical themes, reflections on the times, the role of the media, spin, fake and deception, as here) but true-crime investigative journalism books. He focused on those whose psyche was indelibly dark and steeped in psychopathology, such as the Wests, the Yorkshire Ripper. These are places I have no desire to go, a darkness too far for anything which might be personally necessary to know.

I am much more interested in the nuances of crossing the line, rather than the extremes which I can’t, or don’t want to, in any way, examine. That is why crime novel about psychopaths and extreme aberrant violence does not interest me. And crime novels about how those who are cut from recognisably the same cloth as I am, do. That, I find fascinating, in a kind of more day-to-day exploration of shadow.

Extreme pathology presented as entertainment is not for me – but Burn is not really doing that. So he throws me back on that old chestnut – why did the writer write this, and does a better purpose excuse unspeakable horrors in art. Pass. Pass, Pass on that one, caught on the fence of don’t know

King Lear has the power to shock because the blinding of Gloucester is meant to provoke our pity and our horror, not just fill us with half revulsed half indulged delight in the gruesome. Plus, I suppose also, the safety of knowing this is unreal, and the blinded one and the blinder are actors, after all. But, what about the newsreel and selfie pictures of horrors as they unfold? We need to know what happens, and the knowledge may shake out out of innocence, may wake us to positive response and action – but how quickly do we end up crossing a line where we are viewing the horror of real agony and suffering for some sort of titillation, some sort of over indulgence of our feelings of revulsion, some kind of version of sentimentality, even?

Maybe we are only the thinnest of whiskers away from the crowds who filled the Coliseum to watch gladiators fight to the death for our entertainment, from those who gathered on Tyburn Hill and at the foot of the Guillotine to watch public execution.

So, I do believe this book should be here, for the days and days it has snarled at me, Gordon Burnsnagged me, needled me, and continues to do so still to produce something half book review and part unresolved rant

Alma Cogan Amazon UK
Alma Cogan Amazon USA

Tana French – The Secret Place


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WTF, OMG, like, WOW!

The-Secret-PlaceI’m rarely reduced to both incoherence AND speechlessness by a book. Incoherence, yes, but generally accompanied by loquaciousness,; incoherence because of loquaciousness, perhaps.

This compelling, satisfying, dark, twisty, evocative thriller by French, set in an elite girls’ boarding school outside Dublin, did though, leave me thinking for once that perhaps the operatic over the top incoherence of stylised ‘youth-speak’ was the only possible response, after all. Not because Tana French is in any way incoherent or over the top, though she certainly deals with huge issues which are the stuff of opera and classical drama – the individual and the domestic opening out into much wider, mythic, universal themes. The gobsmacked reaction is really one of awestruck admiration, is all.

Continuing with her ‘Irish Chorus’ of leading characters from the Dublin Murder Squad (she highlights and focuses on a different detective each time) this time her investigating duo are both, in different ways, outsiders. Antoinette Conway is outside because she is a woman, and, moreover, a fierce one who lashes back at evidence of misogyny, patronisation and exploitation. This has made her unpopular with her male colleagues. Stephen Moran wants to be liked, sure, and has charm, but is not prepared to be one of the laddish lads. There is a sense that perhaps he is a little better than the rest, and knows himself to be so. This means he too is a slightly dubious, slightly marked card, by virtue of this aloofness behind the affable. The dynamic between the two, and the building of a professional working relationship, is fascinating – both gender and class are subtexts.

A year earlier, a dead body had been discovered in the grounds of St. Kilda’s girls’ school. It belonged to a popular and lusted after catch of a boy from the neighbouring elite boys’ boarding school. Conway, with another professional partner had attempted to solve the murder, and failed to do so, and the failure left a stain on her. So when some compelling evidence comes Moran’s way, re-opening the investigation offers a way-out, the prospects of advancement, but also the danger of ultimate professional failure, for both. Stakes are high

The fervid, hothouse, intense setting of adolescent girlhood (plus the allure of the neighbouring testosterone) is magnificently done. The reader, like the detectives, is drawn into a world which is both terrifying and sparkling with energy, dreams, passions and possibilities.

Any comparisons to Donna Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History, which French clearly nods at in her own title, are neither audacious nor undeserved. Once again, we have an elite (albeit a crucial few years younger) and issues of class and privilege, cliquery which is both full of possibility and full of poison.


Cypress, featuring heavily in this novel, mythically is connected to death, transformation, times of transition and symbolises everlasting, enduring bonds, that might exist between people

What I particularly liked about French’s superb mastery of relationships, characterisation and dialogue amongst the charged teens is that she does not fall into relentless cliché – though there are the ubiquitous rhythms and language of the group, portrayed with accuracy – she does not cut each individual girl and boy from an identikit cloth – the reader can hear individual rhythms.

There is a substrate to French’s writing which seems to have a particular sensitivity to ‘atmosphere and preternatural energetics’ I suspect she is someone who feels the indefinable, that which, for want of a better term, gets tarred dismissively as ‘supernatural’. So this is certainly a strong element running through this book. But, for those who absolutely dismiss such things, there is certainly much evidence throughout history of the effects of a kind of group hysteria, group hyper-arousal to ‘mysterious comings and goings’ and activities involving poltergeists which cluster around adolescence. So, take a group of highly charged young girls within a cloistered setting, and the explosion of a dark, brilliant energy out of which mysterious things happen does not, in any way, feel like a novelist copping out by invoking the supernatural. It just adds to the shiver and the tension.

Structurally, a beautifully told tale : alternate chapters, the detectives, taking place over a little more than a day, the central groups of two rival groups of girls, moving slowly forward over eight months and two weeks towards the day the boy was murdered.

And as for the writing itself, gorgeous, authentic, and every now and again arising into something even finer, some kind of summing up :

Conway..spun the MG onto the main road and hit the pedal. Someone smacked his horn, she smacked hers back and gave him the finger, and the city fireworked alive all around us: flashing with neon signs and flaring with red and gold lights, buzzing with motorbikes and pumping with stereos, streaming warm wind through the open windows. The road unrolled in front of us, it sent its deep pulse up into the hearts of our bones, it flowed on long and strong enough to last us for ever.

So………..I have recovered loquaciousness, though I’m not so sure about coherence….read it, just read it!! A brilliant, highly recommended outing.

And I am indebted to Cleopatralovesbooks for her superb review of The Secret Place Tana French and paintingwhich sent me hot-footing to the library for a copy. It IS one which I know I’ll want to read again, so I know a Kindle purchase is on the cards!

The Secret Place Amazon UK
The Secret Place Amazon USA

Happy Paper/Cotton (UK/USA) Anniversary, one and all from Lady Fancifull


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Two years on,  a myriad words, and some pictures too…………

Well, my dear bloggy regular friends, irregular friends, just-dropped-by-on-the off-chancers and even the ‘Help! I’m lost, didn’t mean to be here at all – what IS this place’ accidental landers – today marks the start of year 3, as yes, this is our second anniversary!

Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 1935 - first 10 paperbacks!

Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 1935 – first 10 paperbacks!

It feels a bit more like that at the moment than ‘my bloggy birthday’, so I’m afraid that rather than providing a birthday cake I could suggest some PAPER presents we might give/have given to each other, appropriately, (for here in the UK) as this is primarily a bookie review blog, but, curiously the-across-the-ponders have a different ‘which anniversary is it?’ UK does COTTON on the first anniversary, PAPER for this one, but the USA reverses it. (Wiki doesn’t give information about what other countries designate the yearly anniversaries to be – so tell us yours!)

Reading between crisp cotton sheets - one of life's pleasures!

Reading between crisp cotton sheets – one of life’s pleasures!

Not that I’m implying that there is any kind of marriage going on between me and my by-all-accounts 375 odd followers. Nor am I implying that any of you are remotely odd……except, when I come to think of it……………..

But I am aware of the intangible, but definitely THERE sense of community and relationship that exists across the blogosphere. I’ve got used to the regular popper in and outers, and several of us have confessed that we WORRY when regular likers, commenters and waving hallo-ers stop dropping by, we hope they are okay – particularly if we visit them regularly and there have been NO POSTS.

Anyways, anyhows, anywheres, (cue for a song)

thank you very much, from the top and bottom of my TBR pile for your visits, comments, reflections, recommendations and addings to my bookspend, and for preventing me from just spouting off my noisy opinions into thin air over the last 2.

It’s invidious in some ways to single out any of you, as you all brighten my days and, to those who just sneak a quick peek and then rapidly decamp, thank you too for brightening my stats!

But singling out can’t be avoided really. My dear old North of the Border chum has been there from the very start – in fact, blame her for my bloggery at all, as ’twas she who emailed me to say ‘I’m starting a blog’ and encouraged my faint heart to follow suit.

For Fiction Fan.........

For FictionFan………

Actually FictionFan – let’s hear it for FictionFan deserves many more kudos and high fives than mine – she has really taken the art of turning a blog into a thriving and chatting salon, meeting place and community, especially for those devoted to reading, though her interests do spread much wider – men in wet shirts, men in tight shorts, not to mention aliens from outer space, shiver me timbers moments and crime detection, all helped down with chocolate and more chocolate. She is a wonderful promoter of all our blogs, and has certainly introduced me to other bloggers through that promotion. My special wishes to you FF of lots and lots and lots of paper -or at least eInk, from your blogging community. May your TBR reach 4 figures (runs hurriedly away from FFs glare of crossness!)

For FictionFan....

For FictionFan….

And across the pond are the always fascinating postings of the inestimable Jilanne Hoffmann and her blog The Writer’s Shadow Jilanne is also part of a collective of writers The Dogpatch Collective and, whether on her own blog, or as part of the collective is TIRELESS at promoting other writers. She is particularly passionate about not only books for children – but to encourage children to be the creative writers and artists of the future – there’s a real sense of a community extending through time, as well as space. She doesn’t post that often (because she’s clearly busy writing!) but it’s always a pleasure to find one of her posts popping up in my reader. Happy Annie Versary, Jillane!

Divided from the mainland by a smaller body of water is Jersey’s own Cleopatralovesbooks Cleopatra is one of the queens of bookie memes, and a visit to her site will generally give the hapless visitor a choice of 5 or 6 books per post, which she might entice you with. Shopping has never been so easy, though restraint might be needed in order to avoid a TBR increasing by a handful at a time


A couple of other UK bloggers have featured hugely on my radar this last year. Crimeworm unsurprisingly is a fan of books about worms (!) but we discovered we are both extremely fond of spies, or at least, books about spies. So, if you were wondering who might have been lingering around your blog, hidden behind a newspaper, a false moustache and engaged in trying to compose invisible ink messages, it could be her, or it could be me

Now I don’t know whether Jane – aka FleurInHerWorld should be heartily congratulated by me, or whether I should shiver in anxiety when one of her posts pops up in my reader, since she is my new ‘spend Spend SPEND!!!!!!!’ friend of this year (and in fact, the tail end of last, too) not to mention her skilful ability to stack my TBR higher and higher. There seems to be a never-ending list of authors heading my way, many, wonderful women writers from the middle years of the twentieth century, introduced to me by Fleur. We clearly share a delight in the natural world, and many of the books (of all kinds) she seems to point my way are by writers, whatever their genre, who have the ability to engage with the landscape.

And, finally, finally, but by no means at all, leastly, there are a couple of people who have really, really, been most wonderfully supportive and appreciative of my blogging.

Firstly, writer and gardener Stepheny Houghtlin who is incredibly encouraging, and enthusiastic about the books and stuff which get my attention and I hope will get yours, too.

Secondly, Underunner from New Zealand. I can’t link to her blog for you to follow and check out – because I don’t think she has one, or if she has it is very secret (maybe she too has an interest in espionage!) But Underunner has given me a lot of likes over the last 2 years, and its always jolly to see the ‘underunner liked your post……….’ pop up Thank you underunner

Thank you ALL, mentioned or not.

And, now I am TWO (and some of you are TWO WITH ME) I think I can look forward to sharing more books like this with you:

I think NEXT year is leather…….

Meanwhile, before I go getting into training for my third year, a little shameless self-promotion of a couple of my most successful posts, with no idea why, except that I suspect that my most avid readers must be anatomists and rose growers with a deep love of philosophy and a fascination with wolves:

BreninThis review was one of the first I posted, early in April 2013. The Philosopher and The Wolf continues to be my most popular post; clearly, a lot of visitors search the web for pictures of wolves, and come here from a wolfish image search.

Slightly behind in popularity is an even earlier posting, one of the job lot of previous Amazon reviews I posted on my second day as a blogger, to kickstart the site with some content


Soberingly, this very popular post (at least with people paying their first visit) is also a remarkably SHORT review.

C’mon though, you don’t expect those who are only one day old to be talking a lot, do you, whereas toddlers never pipe down, hence my present garrulousness.

Anatomy of A Rose is indeed a great book, but, I would have thought, hardly a best-seller!

WOT?? No CAKE???????????


Tana French – Broken Harbour


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A crime novel about much more than dead bodies

Broken HarbourTana French is an author new to me. On finishing this, her fourth book I am unsurprised to find that she won the 2012 Irish Crime Fiction Award with it, as it is an extremely satisfying, thoughtful work, which stands easily as a book of literary fiction, subject matter, crime and detection.

Set after the Lehman Brother’s financial collapse of 2008, when the effects of world-wide recession hit what had been the booming, but now slowed-down ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy particularly hard, French examines Ireland, culturally, politically, economically, through the lens of the Dublin police force, and, particularly its murder squad.

She has taken a slightly different approach – rather than follow the fortunes of one particular detective, she follows the squad as a whole, and focuses on a different detective in each book. This gives a really detailed, rounded approach, as though of course different personalities will work procedures in their individual ways, the reader gets a sense of the whole process of investigation, in its day-to-day grind, the meshings and antagonisms of individuals, and the methods and the madness of solving a crime, and bringing perpetrators to justice and securing convictions

I hope this doesn’t make ‘the procedures’ sound dry – French is anything but dry in her writing – but she is meticulous, and creates believable detail, fascinating story and depth characters in time and place.

The central investigating detective, Mick ‘Scorcher’ Kennedy is a fiercely controlled, absolutely by-the-book policeman, with a rookie partner he is prepared to properly train. Kennedy is almost obsessively treading a thorough, correct path, and through the course of the book his own psychology and history shows why – there is indeed ‘background’ here, and every reason why he has not gone down the maverick, hard-drinking, law-unto-himself route.

Ghost estate, Wexford

The brutal crime which sets this story up is a savage attack on a middle class couple and their two children, living in a kind of new-development ghost town beyond Balbriggan, Fingal. Now called Brianstown, previously Broken Harbour, it had a connection to Kennedy’s boyhood, but has become both symbol and reality of when boom turns to bust.

French winds up a tight and twisting story as the solution seems to fall one way and then another, and, always, the story of individual lives is played out truthfully, but the wider cultural context has an equal weight.

This is a gripping police procedural, an extremely well written and chilling thriller, gritty and dark – but there is nothing gratuitous about the violence: – French does not present it as entertainment, but as an indictment of a system which created the means for it to happen

In every way there is, murder is chaos.

I remember the country back when I was growing up….There was plenty of bad there, I don’t forget that, but we all knew exactly where we stood and we didn’t break the rules lightly. If that sounds like small stuff to you, if it sounds boring or old-fashioned or uncool, think about this, people smiled at strangers, people said hello to neighbours, people left their doors unlocked and helped old women with their shopping bags, and the murder rate was scraping zero.

Sometime since then, we started turning feral. Wild got into the air like a virus and it’s spreading…..Everything that stops us being animals is eroding, washing away like sand, going and gone.

The final step into feral is murder. 

This found its way to my ‘must read’ on the back of a strong recommendation and an Tana Frenchexcellent review of this by Fleur In Her World, who has been hugely responsible for much of my book buying since I discovered her site  She hasn’t let me down yet!

Broken Harbour Amazon UK
Broken Harbour Amazon USA

Patrick Hamilton – Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky


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An extraordinary trilogy of hope and despair in thirties London

Twenty Thousand StreetsPatrick Hamilton’s trilogy of bar and street life in London in the late twenties and early thirties, linked by their three central characters, was originally published as three works : The Midnight Bell, in 1929 when Hamilton was 25, The Siege of Pleasure 3 years later, and the final volume, The Plains of Cement in 1934. They were then republished the following year as this trilogy, Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky

The novels are drawn in part (or the first one is) from aspects of Hamilton’s own rather destructive life. Although they could indeed be read singly, without reference to each other, and in any order, it is through reading them sequentially that the widest understanding happens.

The Midnight Bell is a West End pub. Two of the bar staff are Bob, who yearns to be a writer and is something of an auto-didact, and Ella, a plain, good natured young woman who is in love with Bob, although she has no hopes in that direction, as she is aware that his considerable physical charms, his wit, likeability and intelligence – not to mention his own intense susceptibility to pretty women, put him out of her reach.

Bob has a growing problem with alcohol, but at the beginning of the novel it is no more than heavy drinking, and there is every likelihood, in his mind, that he will fulfil his literary ambitions, and make something of himself. Ella, the perfect kindly barmaid does not drink, and seems the least damaged of the three central characters. The other protagonist is Jenny, a ravishingly pretty young prostitute, aged 18, whose entrance one evening into The Midnight Bell will be cataclysmic for Bob

(The trilogy was broadcast as a BBC drama the set has been uploaded, in small segments, to YouTube)

The Midnight Bell is Bob’s story, a decline and fall, laid absolutely low by love. As Bob himself is a witty man, this book ripples with Hamilton’s sparkling word play and mordant observations. In fact, for my tastes, the self-deprecating humour, as an antidote to the darkening story, was almost a little overdone. In Hamilton’s later books – most specifically in The Slaves of Solitude, his brilliant and sly humour is much less overt, and instead sparkles darkly and judiciously, rather than `and here’s another funny line’

The much, much, bleaker The Siege of Pleasure is Jenny’s Story. Picking up at the end of the Midnight Bell, when Jenny’s destruction of Bob is almost complete, Hamilton almost immediately back tracks to show how Jenny, who is not consciously wicked, became a woman of the streets. Unlike the destructive, vicious and racketty Netta of his other highly acclaimed novel, Hangover Square: A Story of Darkest Earl’s Court, another stunningly beautiful, completely amoral woman who uses her beauty to part men from their money, Jenny, though absolutely self-obsessed, has a kind of charm and a desire to please. Jenny’s dark destruction is also due to alcoholism. The Siege of Pleasure also seethes with Hamilton’s socialist, egalitarian politics – Jenny is a well-drawn individual woman, but she is also a representative of the unfairness of the class system. The best she can hope for is a life in service, and, at the start of the book, becoming the live-in housekeeper and cook to a trio of elderly siblings, represents a big step up on her own humbler, violent beginnings. Her fall is rapid and its start happens in a single evening.

Tottenham Court Road Station, 1930s

Tottenham Court Road Station, 1930s

But, for me, the stand-out is Ella’s story, in The Plains Of Cement – London and the area between Oxford Street and the Euston Road, form the bulk of it, though the glamour of theatre land, and the poverty of Pimlico, are also drawn. Ella is a good young woman, kindly, and with a kind of commonplace store of cliché driven phrases, which however come with a homespun innocence from her. She is another with few prospects, and, her only escape could come through marriage, except that she accepts her plainness is unlikely to make this likely. One of the denizens of the bar is a truly irritating, desperately lonely on the verge of elderly bachelor, Ernest Eccles. Eccles is screamingly annoying, the kind of person whose conversation is full of meaningful innuendo which is at the same time WITHOUT meaning. The developing courtship (if indeed that is what it is) is wonderfully handled, and Ella, appreciating Eccles’ good qualities, must juggle moral choices – she has a dearly loved mother, and a hated, bad-tempered stepfather – also working in the bar industry, fallen from almost being a `self-made man’ to a bottle and glass washer. Ella gives half her earnings to her mother; the stepfather is mean as well as an emotional bully.

This again is a bleak book, but it is the writer’s wonderful humour, light touch, fine ear for dialogue, and the internal running commentary of Ella’s thoughts whilst her `out in the world’ external doings and sayings are happening, that makes his work such a delight to read.

The excruciating progression of Eccles’ courtship of Ella, and her frustration, embarrassment and changing feelings towards her elderly admirer, moment to moment, are wonderfully drawn. – here is an excerpt where Eccles is holding forth, but Ella is fixated on the fact that he has a particularly noticeable tooth, which is presently distracting, whilst Eccles is holding forth about his various ‘Funny Little Habits’ of which he is inordinately proud:

The Funny Little Habit under immediate scrutiny was his Funny Little Habit of being Rather Careful in his Choice of Words – in other words, his objection to swearing.

‘I mean to say It’s Not Necessary, is it’ he was saying

‘No…’ said Ella, tooth-gazing.

‘I do think it’s so unnecessary to be Unnecessary said Mr Eccles, getting into slight tautological difficulties. ‘You know what I mean – don’t you?’

‘Yes. I do.’ She wondered if it would have been any better if it had come down straight. Even then it would have wanted the point filed off to get into line with the rest.

‘I mean to say if you’ve got to use expletives why not just use ordinary, decent, everyday words?’

‘Yes. Why not?’ (His other teeth of course were in excellent condition for his age.)

‘I always think it was such a good idea,’ said Mr Eccles, – ‘a fellow I read about in a book. Instead of saying “Damn” and “Blast” and all the rest, whenever he was annoyed he used to say “Mice and Mumps – Mice and Mumps”

‘Oh yes?’ (Couldn’t a dentist break it off halfway down, and then crown it?)

The detailed, authentically delineated Ella comes from the same kind of world as Enid Roach in Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude – and Ernest Eccles, though not consciously bullying, in the manner of the obnoxious Mr Thwaites in that book, is equally a boor, insensitive, solipsistic and insufferable in his pomposity. Hamilton writes from inside his central female characters utterly believably.

The autobiographical basis for the first novel in the trilogy came from Hamilton’s own love affair with a prostitute, and his own alcoholism. His father, too, was an alcoholic, an unsuccessful writer, and made an early, disastrous marriage to a prostitute. Out of his own dreadfully destructive nature and nurture Patrick Hamilton created finely crafted literature. Alcohol, and its potential for destruction, as well as its ability to create a rose-tinted world, runs through all three books, as does the various ways in which capital exploits labour

In the end, despite the humour, the storyline, the well drawn characters, and the Patrick-Hamilton-007marvellous journey of 3 novels sequentially, which can be enjoyed as solo outings, it is Hamilton’s depth and humanity which grabs me, every time. His touch may be light, and have at times an almost Restoration style comedy of manners going on (the trajectory of the courtship between Eccles and Ella) – but light, in Hamilton’s touch, is never limited to the superficial, and he has an enviable ability to whisk aside the surface, and leave the reader heart-clutchingly aching as they engage with, not only his central characters, but ourselves. He is some kind of witness to the lives all those who are not the explorers who discover continents, the astronauts who step on other planets, the rulers of nations, but those who live inside the ordinary dwellings, the denizens of those Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky

Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky Amazon UK
Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky Amazon USA


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