Manchester, Arena: In Sorrow, In Anger, In Despair : Searching for a way ahead

This is nothing to do with religion, nothing to do with faith, nothing to do with any kind of cause worth anything at all

It says nothing about humanity’s desire to leave a world in any way better for the generations which come after us. It does not resonate in any way with how life itself strives for better adaptation. There is nothing here of any rationale, nothing here of anything which might make us hope humankind has anything to admire, to desire to emulate about itself.

All of that lies only within the hearts, minds and actions of those who came forward to succour and protect those who have been victims of an act perpetrated by deluded, aberrant, distasteful and irretrievably stupid, on every possible level, individuals

Children. Targetting children, a concert appealing to, particularly, young girls. A clearly deliberate choice, no doubt with the desire to provoke the deep distaste and revulsion that it does.

This is the worst our sorry species might be capable of – any who get sucked into these kinds of acts by believing they are following a ‘cause’ are deluded and in denial of their own true dark desires – these are the bullies, these are those who sublimate their own deep mental and emotional sickness and insufficiency by pretending to themselves that they are serving some greater purpose.

All they do is reveal the generosity, compassion, and humanity of those many others who rushed forwards to help, support, save, soothe, rescue, in all the ways they could.

We may not get to know the names of the admirable many, who remind us, in our helpless rage and despair, of what we can be, of what we want to be. But they are the ones I so surely need to focus on, and to hold like a beacon in my mind. They are the health and the wholeness.

Joel Dicker – The Baltimore Boys

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“Lives only have meaning if we can fulfil these three destinies: to love, to be loved, and know how to forgive”

I had been captivated by Swiss writer Joel Dicker’s first book, the runaway critically and reader acclaimed The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair – both a murder mystery/investigation and a book about writing, writer’s block and matters literary. So I was delighted to be offered his second as an ARC, here translated from the original French by Alison Anderson.

The Baltimore Boys stands as both prequel and sequel to ‘Harry Quebert’. The central character Marcus Goldman (the writer of Harry Quebert) looks back to the original genesis of his writing inspiration – his childhood, and his friendship with his cousin Hillel, and a less privileged boy, Woody – the Baltimore Boys, and in present time, he has already published ‘Quebert’ and, once again, is finding the process of writing hard.

Why do I write? Because books are stronger than life. They are the finest revenge we can take on life. They are the witnesses from the impregnable wall of our mind, the unassailable fortress of our memory

In fact, he has taken himself away from the distractions of the city (New York) to a quiet, suburban house in Florida, where his neighbours are affluent and retired, and nothing happens. He is in search of tranquillity to help the creative juices flow.

A chance encounter with a stray dog causes Marcus’ boyhood, as a third member of the Baltimore Boys gang, to come flooding back to him, as the dog’s owner is a significant figure from his past.

Marcus was the only son of the ‘Montclair Goldmans’ . His father Nathan was the less successful Goldman Brother. The star brother, and the one whom Marcus hero-worshipped, along with his beautiful wife Anita, was Saul. Saul and Anita were wealthy, golden, successful and admired. They and their only son Hillel were the Baltimore Goldmans.

However, as we discover, at the start of the book – the Golden Baltimores somehow became mired in tragedy. Jumping back and forth in time-frames from 1989 to the present day, Marcus is writing his past, his present, and, perhaps his future. This book, The Baltimore Boys, will be a celebration of the people he loved whose lives were less blessed than he thought, and will also be a way to come to terms with accepting loss, and broken illusions.

I loved ‘Quebert’ though at times I found it a little over tricksy. Baltimore Boys, despite all the jumping back and forth in time, seems a much more traditional progression – Goldman lets us know what he intends to reveal to us, before we ever get there – the books very first sentence, its prologue, tells us that in 2004 his boyhood friend, his adopted cousin Woody, is about to start a 5 year prison sentence the next day. We are then immediately taken to Part One, which begins in 1989, The Book of Lost Youth.

I found The Baltimore Boys intensely moving. Marcus, for all his acclaimed fame, has a kind of bruised, attractive diffidence, and a much greater warmth and integrity than he believes he has. This is both a love story, a loss story, and a celebration of the importance of friendship, and of family, those difficult, sometimes impossible ties between siblings and close kin.

And it is full of delicious observations. The back and forth time frames also pinpoint subtle and not so subtle changes in society

There was a time when astronauts and scientists were the stars. Nowadays our stars are people who do nothing and spend their time taking selfies or pictures of their dinner

Above all, Joel Dicker knows how to tell an old story, the rite of passage from child to sadder, wiser man, freshly and engagingly

The Baltimore Boys will be published in English on May 18th It has already been a popular success in the original French, published in 2015, and in Spanish translation.

The Baltimore Boys Amazon UK
The Baltimore Boys Amazon USA

Ngaio Marsh – A Man Lay Dead; Enter A Murderer; The Nursing Home Murder

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Golden Age Wit, Golden Age Murder, in different variations of closed, ‘ Country House’

Ngaio Marsh is the only Golden Age Crime Fiction author I genuinely adore. I have read her books intermittently, when lucky enough to find her in my local library, but she seems to have vanished from their shelves, pretty much, as these are now devoted to more lurid, modern crime fiction, and no longer seem to stock much ‘cosy’.

I don’t know whether it is because she begins writing a little later than Christie, Sayers or Allingham – mid 30s, rather than 20s, or because she came from outside the UK and outside the upper or upper middle class echelons which the other three came from, but I find her writing is less filled with some of the disturbing attitudes towards race and class which was certainly prevalent in the interwar years.

Marsh’s background was not particularly privileged – her father was a bank clerk. Her first passion was art and theatre, and she initially came to the UK in the late 20s from New Zealand, setting up an interior design shop. The first of her Inspector Alleyn books was published in 1934, though she had written it prior to her return to New Zealand in 1932. Beginning to write as the Depression takes hold, coming from another country, coming from a more ‘rogues and vagabonds’ outsider culture, perhaps all made for a slightly less jaundiced view of ‘people not like us’

Whatever the reason, although certainly her detective is crisp and aquiline, cool and educated, impeccably well-read and all the rest, he seems to be more at home in a wider social class, and is rather more of a team player, less the solitary, eccentric, maverick. He is also, to my mind, deliciously funny in a self-deprecating way. Part of the joy of Alleyn is that he doesn’t work alone. Relationships develop, both professional and personal, whether between him and those in his team – especially Inspector Fox (affectionately called Brer Fox by Alleyn) but also he inspires affection in his ‘plods’ and he trusts them, too – or, others whom he has friendships with, and who undertake, at times, investigations on his behalf.

I have begun to track down the books, in sequence and, true to form, downloading the first three – the 1934 A Man Lay Dead, and her two 1935 books, Enter A Murderer, and The Nursing Home Murder, I could not resist starting and finishing this at a running read, as the developing characters were a delight

Marsh’s first book is classically A Country House Murder. A young journalist, Nigel Bathgate, 25, is setting off with his older cousin, sophisticated, womanising Charles Rankin, to his first ever aristocratic country house party, at Frantock, Sir Hubert Handesley’s welcoming home. Handesley is cultured, good fun, and a renowned host. His gatherings are the last word in to die for. But, as the title suggests, death will be literal, not merely a figure of speech. Handesley’s gatherings always iinvolve games, and one of the most popular is ‘Murder’, where one of the guests will be designated the murderer, and once the pretend deed is done, everyone tries to discover who the murderer is.

Except, in this case, it really happens, and there are several possible culprits, and almost everyone has a motive. Sexual, monetary, not to mention political – a background of a secretive Russian society, and a mysterious vendetta, possibly involving a betrayal or two. Greed, sex, sexual betrayal, power.

Enter Marsh’s Detective – the wonderfully light touch, un-plodding, Roderick Alleyn. Alleyn can inspire a kind of adulation in those younger and older. Although his work brings him, of course, in touch with villains, and he has to suspect everyone, he seems to genuinely also like humanity. If he has a fault, it might be that he often warms as much to the perpetrators, in the likeable qualities they have, as well as he might warm to those without a murderous secret to hide.

Alleyn is both a sharp mind, and an ‘following an instinct’ detective – although he inclines most to the rational, and is wary of his instinct.

He also (hurrah!) likes women a lot – as people, and is particularly keen on intelligent, bright, forthright young women – and not as sexual fodder. Alleyn, when we meet him first, is a bachelor, without love interest on the horizon, and, in this book will form a working friendship with a man and a woman who will appear again in other books in the series

At his first appearance he was a bachelor and, although responsive to the opposite sex, did not bounce in and out of irresponsible beds when going about his job. Or if he did, I knew nothing about it. He was, to all intents and purposes, fancy-free and would remain so until, sailing out of Suva in Fiji……And that was still some half-dozen books in the future”

Marsh, in the introduction to this trilogy

The structure of the book (and indeed, the first 3) falls into 3 parts – the set up and dramatis personae at the ‘House Party’. Part 2, Enter the Detective, and the questioning and sifting of evidence. Part 3 – the reconstruction – very like the third act of a play, Alleyn nails the perpetrator by running the reconstruction, with a twist.

The second book Enter A Murderer, published in 1935, takes place in another kind of ‘closed society’ – in this case, it is theatrical, Marsh’s own roots. The setting is a West End production of a murder mystery play. Alleyn, together with the journalist Nigel Bathgate are in the audience of this hot theatrical hit. The lead actor is a chum from Bathgate’s University days. In front of the audience, in the middle of a highly dramatic scene where murder is being dramatised on stage, a real murder happens. Cue a wonderfully campy theatrical feast. The actors consummately act their ‘types’ in real life, as much as they do on stage :

Arthur Surbonadier called on Miss Stephanie Vaughan…and asked her to marry him. It was not the first time he had done so. Miss Vaughan felt herself called upon to use all her professional and personal savoir-faire. The scene needed some handling and she gave it her full attention.

‘Darling’ she said, taking her time over lighting a cigarette and quite unconsciously adopting the best of her six-by-the-mantelpiece poses

Its not just the lovely wit of Marsh, especially exemplified by Alleyn, the plotting is fiendish and fun, the genre itself is affectionately poked fun at by those investigating and those being investigated, the solution satisfying – and Alleyn himself also has compassion for those caught up in the events.

Book 3, The Nursing Home Murder also features Bathgate and Angela North his fiancée, whom we met in an earlier book. Bathgate, and Alleyn’s slightly strange almost hero worship father/son relationship is a real delight, as is Alleyn’s friendship with sharply intelligent Miss North. This book also returns to the political world of Book 1 – Russia, and a revolutionary society working towards the Proletariat Dawn, are set against draconian measures going through Parliament. The Home Secretary, Sir Derek O’ Callaghan, a man with some secrets to hide, is pushing a bill through the House. He has received several death threats. He is also very unwell and in a pretty lifeless marriage.

O Callaghan is rushed to hospital seriously ill, having delayed taking action on his health until he collapses. This is of course, well before the foundation of the NHS. O Callaghan does not survive his emergency operation. It becomes a distinct possibility that the death was not the result of leaving things too late before seeking medical intervention, and more likely that someone within another closed little world – the private hospital itself – might have hastened the shuffling off of his mortal coil. There are those with personal motivations – the usual; sex, money, revenge and there are also those who might have political and ideological motivations. Some of the thinking around ideologies being debated in the mid-30s make their way into this.

I thoroughly enjoyed my immersion into the first 3 of the Alleyn mysteries, and look forward to further progression in due course

I got this on Kindle download. It’s not a completely seamless, and error free digitisation.  There are some annoying paragraph and line hiccups, but no missing text. The price of the succeeding volumes rise quite sharply – there are 33 Alleyn books, published in 11 sets of 3 – and I have noted reviewers continue to mention some formatting problems. I’m intending on tracking down marketplace sellers and second hand, for the most part!

This collection also included an earlier short story by Marsh, not at all in the detective genre. As it involves a little girl in her bedroom on Christmas Eve I was really pleased when she heard footsteps outside the door that there was no need for a detective! It was a sweet and touching story.

Marsh’s books were turned into a BBC series with Patrick Malahide as Alleyn. It is one I will not be watching – not because i have any objection to Malahide;  it is more, that, searching for a sneak You Tube of a couple of the titles here, I find the adaptation has played fairly fast and loose with her books, transposing the third book to after the second world war, instead of between the wars – a quite different dynamic, and introducing what is hinted at in Marsh’s introduction, as occurring ‘some half-dozen books in the future’ into the first episode, thereby also eliminating a favourite character of mine, who ought to take a professionally assisting task, and demonstrate that Alleyn can form friendships with attractive young women without irresponsibly bouncing! I think Marsh might have turned me into a purist, on behalf of her engaging books!

Ngaio Marsh Collection 1 Amazon UK
Ngaio Marsh Collection 1 Amazon USA

Rebecca Mascull – The Wild Air

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Hat Trick In Three

With her third novel, the Edwardian set The Wild Air, Rebecca Mascull has done what she did in her two earlier novels – found a way to hook the reader’s heart to that of her central character, so that the reader absolutely cares about their journey, roots for them and, in this case, I was left feeling quite violent towards the prejudice and spite encountered by our quiet, shy, plain protagonist: one with the courage of a lion, hidden beneath the exterior of a mouse.

It is the first decade of the twentieth century. Cordelia (Della) Dobbs is the third daughter of a bitter, retired, theatrical star. Her charismatic father was seriously injured in an automobile accident, and his stage days are over. Della’s older sisters are beauties, one has gone on to success in the theatre, the other has made a good marriage. Her younger brother is favoured and golden. Della is the family mouse within a vibrantly extrovert, flamboyant set. A bit of a disappointment she does not have the pulchritude, the talent, the artistic creativity, the obvious personality, wit or intelligence to shine out in this family where everyone possesses at least one of these gifts.

Della likes quietness. In a family of extroverts where everyone is glittering and shining all together, there is no point in trying to outshine, or be loud enough or flamboyant enough to command attention. Della stays quiet, helpful, useful. But she does have her own talent – practical, kinaesthetic, a listening gift and passion for mechanics : how things work. Unfortunately, the time is not yet ready for female engineers. And, there is something else. Della is fortunate to come under the protective wing of her great-aunt Betty, newly returned from the States to her North East origins. Betty, a plain-speaking, adventurous woman with a similarly ungraceful, unfeminine appearance, had set out, aged 40, with her younger brother, an engineer, to the New World. Betty had married a practical man, and lived happy with him until his death brought her homewards. And Betty was fascinated by the new challenge and daring of flying. She had seen the Wright Brothers. Betty, with her strength, earthiness and willingness to ignore the constructs of graceful, eye-fluttering femininity, instead, to find her own ways towards being a strong person, a strong female person, becomes a mentor and encourager, helping Della to find her own ‘star’. Della is in love with the idea of flying. And female aviatrixes, though rare, are there to be aspirational role models

Hélène Dutrieu, aviatrix, 1911

I have to admit that my surrender to Della was not as ‘upon the instant’ as it had been to her earlier ‘sisters’. Feisty Adeliza Golding, from Mascull’s first book, The Visitors, and the wonderfully intelligent scientist, Dawnay Price, from The Song Of The Sea Maid, eccentric, flamboyant personalities both, had snaffled my interest in their stories from the off.

So, courageous for Mascull to explore this far quieter girl and woman, this introvert. Della proves, though, to be ‘still waters run deep’ She is the person in the corner of the room you don’t notice at a party, the mousy one, until by chance you discover this overlooked one has a wealth of story to tell, and a life of more strangeness and fascination than you could dream of.

One of the many facets of Mascull’s writing, which I admire hugely, is her heart and her kindness. There is tenderness here, a kind of respect for the integrity of her invented characters. She is not someone who seems to force her characters into some structure and shape. More, a sense of the author’s creation revealing themselves. Della, true to her quieter nature, takes time also to reveal herself to the reader – but she is absolutely authentic, both in her quietness and reticence, and in where she soars (literally!) when she discovers where her true North lies.

Lanoe Hawker’s (First World War flying ace) No 1611 Bristol Scout 

I read, a year or so ago, a fictionalised biography of another aviatrix, Beryl Markham. What disturbed me about that book, was that the author had to some extent played fast and loose with the facts of Markham’s life, for her ‘faction’. Something which leaves me with a kind of distaste. It is, I think, another mark of Mascull’s integrity that though she might take specific achievements and stories from the history of real people as a starting point or inspiration for her fictions, she does not mangle the authenticity of real lives for her fiction. Della is not Amelia Earhart, Amy Johnson or any other ‘real’ aviatrix, bent into Mascull’s story. Della is Mascull’s genesis, but she grows into her own shape. Something magical happens when an author so clearly ‘listens’ to the arisingness of their creation.

If you want your heroes to be full of ‘flashing eyes, floating hair’ and mesmerise you with their magnetic charisma, Della may not do, but my advice would be, stay patient and wait for her to find herself, to reveal who she is, as she discovers that for herself.

Now, I will not deny that there were some aspects that I struggled with. The book has a prologue, dated 1918, but the sequential story begins in 1909, with Della in her mid-teens so, clearly the First War is going to be a major factor. I will not reveal spoilers of course, but there are sequences of some letters, written by a couple of major characters in the book, which had my disbelief unsuspended, and thinking ‘surely………..this could not have got past the censors’ Mascull is, however, meticulous in research and, for the benefit of the interested reader tells us what is true, and where she might have stretched truth into invention. I was quite startled to discover that whilst of course censors would always do their work on anything which might reveal position, military details etc, there were letters which did get home where soldiers did reveal their fear, grief, and despair to loved ones. Although most letters were much more ‘chipper’ than the writers felt, in order to avoid alarming their loved ones, some were far more honest, and escaped censoring.

The beautiful, elegant, Blackburn Monoplane

My other challenge is that The Wild Air is much more ‘Romantic Historical’ than Mascull’s first two books, and romance is more central to the trajectory of the story. One of the genre shelves I never visit in my local library is ‘Romance’ though of course relationships, including romantic relationships, tend to be a crucial part of many if not most of the books I love. There is a very pure, whole relationship which is a central one. Perhaps it is a mark of a certain cynicism in me that felt a little like ‘Mills and Boon’ about that, and I am more comfortable reading relationships which have a dysfunctionality. I needed to lay that cynicism aside, Mascull, as said earlier, is an honest writer, and allows her characters their honesty too. I had been more comfortable with the more intellectual, greater thinking complexity of Adeliza and Dawnay, which inevitably gave a certain – tangle – to their relationships. The central driving relationship in this book is where there is a great expressed emotional honesty happening, and perhaps this leads to a clearer trajectory and clearer mutuality. The conflicts here are conflicts caused externally, not internal conflicts. And, I guess war itself creates a kind of ‘cut to the chase’ intensity.

Mascull is a wonderful crafter of language itself. Now, curiously, I found myself underlining less ‘soaring prose’ in this book than I had in her other two. And, reflecting on this, I think this was also the expression of an authenticity in her writing – Adeliza and Dawnay were both highly expressive characters of brilliance, wit, flamboyance, so of course they are going to express themselves in stunning fashion. Della, as noted is a quiet person. She speaks far more plainly, less elliptically, less in metaphor. So, of course, even though Mascull is ‘third person’ narration, the think through will be through that quieter, more plainly speaking persona :

Della talked aloud to herself. She did that when it was marvellous and she revelled in the complete wonder of flying, the secret joy of it. Or when it was bad. When the mist came down or the wind got up something terrible and she was fighting the weather in order to come back alive

Adeliza and Dawnay would, I’m sure have expressed the above in fizzing expression, I would have been underlining passages of beauty all through. Della does not have that voice. Again, I come back to thinking about Mascull, who, here, does not astound the reader with her own beautiful, poetic, expressive voice – because it would not be Della’s.

Authenticity.

So, having thought through what I mainly loved, and what (and why) I struggled with, I can only raise my 4 ½ stars to 5. Mascull has done it again.

I had one slightly strange thought, an elemental one, as I read this : Mascull’s first creation, Adeliza, found her passion in earth – deaf-blind, it is initially through engagement with what grows – and through ether, the spirit, intangible world. Dawnay connects through water, for Della, that earthed, practical soul, the growth and destiny is airborne. What next……..I do hope not an arsonist!

I was extremely happy to receive an arc, via the publishers, Hodder and Stoughton, shortly before Christmas. A fantastic start to my 2017 reading year

However………as the book will be published on May 4th, I have held back publication of my review till towards the end of April. In fact, this week marks a blog tour of Rebecca Mascull’s book, and I am eagerly looking forward to other bloggers’ impressions. Mascull’s writing always presents possibilities for interested and passionate reader engagement.

I shall be searching out other reviews and they should appear as clickable links in the ‘Catching My Beady Eye’ widget, on the right hand margin

The Wild Air Amazon UK
The Wild Air Amazon USA

(Alas, I have discovered that ‘other’blogging platforms’ don’t easily transfer over to the Post I Like Widget, so you will have to find your way to other reviews yourselves, from the addresses given above!)

John Marzillier – To Hell and Back

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A wise, thoughtful, compassionate and skillful book about PTSD revealed through the words of those who have experienced this.

It’s funny how synchronicity works. Because I read Noel Hawley’s highly recommended Before The Fall, which I highly recommend, and which features a small boy who suffers a profound traumatic event, and clearly would be diagnosed with PTSD, and because I have a professional interest in the subject, I was reminded that John Marzillier, a British clinical psychologist and later, psychotherapist had written a book on the subject.

I had been moved and beautifully taught much in another book by him, The Gossamer Thread, where he explored his wide journey of development as a practitioner, and the deep exploration, refining, and ambiguity in human relationships that happen throughout all our lives, within and without any kind of formal therapeutic setting, simply because human beings are complex, and so each and every encounter between self and other is fraught with – an endless possibility.

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry: Promoting the charity Heads Together to open up discussion of mental health issues

So, I started to read the in some ways, more geared towards the practitioner, slightly more left brain, slightly less poetical/metaphorical To Hell and Back: Personal Experiences of Trauma and How We Recover and Move on. And during my reading and reflecting period, mental health, particularly linked to the experience of dealing with psychological trauma, suddenly became positive news, due to Prince Harry, and also Prince William, speaking openly about the deep, hidden effects caused by their mother’s death. Public figures speaking out in such a way, honestly, – particularly public figures who are, not being rude, part of the Establishment rather than famous for flashier, sex-and-drugs-and-rock-and-roll lifestyles, not to mention ‘reality TV’ famous only for being famous ‘stars’, will be listened to more seriously.

Expression of emotion is more common, and I would say, generally a good thing, with the exception of the artificial stimulation of emotion in reality TV shows!

But, he also cautions against those who assume it always IS the right approach to bare the suffering soul:

Is avoiding talking about feelings always wrong? I do not think that one can or should make such a categorical statement. So much depends on the context and the person, not to mention their relationships with family and close friends and on timing

Focusing on a wide range of traumatic single events – Marzillier in this book is exploring the kind of ‘out of a moderately clear blue sky’ unexpected and traumatic event, rather than, say the trauma of repeated brutal events from early childhood – the author looks both at the unpredictable horrors caused by acts of deliberate chosen malevolence, and the impersonal ‘being in the wrong place at the wrong time’ of major accidents like train crashes due to mechanical failures. Marzillier was, for many years, employed by Thames Valley Police, working with those who have to deal with traumatic events, which arise out of the nature of their work – police, firefighters, army personnel, ambulance personnel. The professionals have to maintain a distance from their own natural ‘alert! Danger! I am under threat! autonomic nervous system response of flight, fight, freeze or dissociation which is our physiological survival response. The fact that they are trained to do this, and have techniques to use, cannot ever completely over-ride that ancient animal response, and this kind of ‘trauma is my 9-5, day in-day out worker’ may well find health problems which arise out of the continual overriding of the normal response to danger – get out of here!

How people feel and behave once they are out of danger and the traumatic event is over is a product of the intensity of the experience itself, the nature of the person and the context – that is, what their life is after the event

As in his previous book, what most blazes out, necessarily and importantly, is Marzillier’s artistry, his compassion, his flexibility and his open-ness to meet each individual he interviews for this book, making space for a joint exploration of their stories. Time and again he cautions against the single fix-it approach to PTSD – and, indeed, to the single, fashionable diagnosis of the condition. There may be other mental and emotional health issues experienced by someone who has been in a ‘traumatic’ situation, and other approaches, other diagnoses may need to be made. Don’t jump to a PTSD conclusion, he cautions.

It is a mistake to sweep all post-trauma psychological reactions into one simple category, or to assume that if someone shows PTSD symptoms then nothing needs to be done but treat the person’s PTSD

At the heart of this book, is the often stated central idea that whatever ‘the diagnosis’ says, that it is a unique individual with all their individual personality, history, belief systems and social networks who is receiving the diagnosis, and there CAN be no ‘one way’ of treatment. As in Gossamer Thread, Marzillier stresses it is the relationship between practitioner/clinician and patient/client which actually matters MORE than any ‘specific’ method. Sure, the practitioner must have relevant skills which can work in this field, and preferably, the flexibility and skill to acknowledge that ‘their’ skillset may not be the right one for THIS client at this point. Marzillier even acknowledges that treatment approaches which lie outside his particular belief system and training, DO work for some people, – with the right practitioner. He is extremely open-minded, whilst being at the same time, a scientist by training.

This book has a lot, highly relevant, to say to both the clinical psychologist and the ‘energy worker’ working in this field.

It is a marvellous book, serious, analytical, warm, open minded and hearted – and, always important, beautifully written, and authentic – he has allowed the individual voices of the many people he interviewed in this book – those who had experienced events, and been diagnosed with PTSD – to recount their stories, and the different treatments and outcomes. These are not, in the main, ‘his clients or former clients’ . They are people who chose to respond to a general request made ‘public’ when he was planning on writing a book on this subject.

To Hell and Back Amazon UK
To Hell and Back Amazon USA

Aside

Announcing a blog tour – Rebecca Mascull – The Wild Air

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Rebecca Mascull, an author I much admire, has her third novel out early next month. And, to whet your appetites, there will be a blog tour (me too!)

I shall be eagerly reading other reviews, interviews and so on, and will certainly be featuring them on my Posts I Like widget, but these are the blogs and these are the dates:

Rebecca writes literary historical novels with strong female characters. This one is about an aviatrix, and set prior to, and encompassing, the First World War. She always researches meticulously, so just when you might think ‘surely THIS couldn’t have happened at that time, you will find yourself surprised and educated.  The Wild Air has a much more introverted, central character than the ones from her first two novels, but she is as interesting, layered, unique and entrancing as ‘The Visitors’ Adeliza Golding and Song of the Sea Maid’s Dawnay Price.

Noah Hawley – Before the Fall

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A rich, nuggetty slice of thoughtful thrillery : sensation seeking society in the dock

Noah Hawley does far more than craft a page-turning thriller. He is a writer who makes the reader think about the ethics of the society we live in, how it might be, to inhabit the lives of his creations, and, what choices WE might make, in helping to create the ethics of our world.

I first found him with the troubling The Good Father, a novel written from the perspective of a loving father whose son carries out an assassination on a respected presidential hopeful.

So, when offered Before The Fall, as a digital ARC, I was interested BECAUSE the author was Hawley, and thought the novel itself would be rather more interesting than the blurb suggested . Any book with any kind of sensationalist story, might be written purely as a ratchet tension, or, might ratchet, and have more about it. And, of course, Hawley being Hawley, it does.

The CEO of a populist news channel, who promotes, rather, edgy conspiracy driven, whip up feelings programmes, which are not necessarily blazing with the light of truth, is travelling back from Martha’s Vineyard to New York, with his family, in a commissioned private plane. He is the kind of man who warrants 24 hour private protection. Also on the plane is another member of the superpowerful, superwealthy, from the financial makers and shakers of society, wheeling and dealing, skating close to the edges of the law, and not always holding the moral line. In fact, possibly off centre a lot. On board also, is someone quite different. An artist, possibly a good one, a man with a bit of a bad boy personal past, someone who appeared to show more promise than he ever realised, but, now, on the verge of having found his vision again.

Inexplicably 18 minutes into the flight, the plane plunges off radar and crashes into the ocean. Even more seemingly improbably, two survive; Scott Burroughs, the artist, and the CEO’s youngest child, 4 year old JJ. That survival is almost impossible to credit or imagine, and happens because Burroughs, influenced when a small child by the media star figure of Jack LaLanne, had taken to ‘you can do anything if you really put the work in’ challenging swimming. With busted shoulder, in fog, wreckage and darkness, he takes the heroic path, hearing the child crying out somewhere near him in the ocean and gets the two of them to shore, several miles away.

Jack LaLanne – a role model from simpler times

The high profiles, power and wealth of David Bateman, the TV man, and Ben Kipling, finance supremo, suggest that the crash may have been more than ordinary mechanical failure. So contrasting investigative teams are drawn in. One, searching purely for evidence about aircraft and its safety, the other, part of an investigation into motive, and lawbreaking, not to mention, terrorism.

In these days, conspiracy theories are always of far more interest than rational explanations. Scandal, we all know, sells. So there are also far scummier motivations at work. Bateman’s populist channel has a rabble-rousing, fake-news peddling, soaring ratings presenter, Bill Milligan. So…….whilst some news outlets present more sober, as factual-as-the-can-be-till-we-know-more accounts of what happened, and are pretty sure that Scott Burroughs is a good, old-fashioned hero, others have more of an ear out for the whisper of conspiracy.

Burroughs is by nature a private man, and unwilling anyway to become the fodder of a feeding frenzy of ‘how did it feel?’ ‘how did manage to do that?’ interest, however benevolently curious. This, in part, feeds Milligan’s natural tendency to hone in on any jugular going – invented or not  – blood-letting, sleaze, slime gets massive ratings. Some journalists exploit our seamier desires.

Stylistically, Hawley gives us the inside stories, the in the head viewpoints, of all who were on the aircraft, passengers and crew, all involved in the investigation, and others drawn into the fallout of tragedy.

This is thriller – why did this happen, is there a hidden agenda beyond the obvious – which is wonderfully page-turning, but, all through, it also makes the reader think. How responsible are we, when we consume sleaze stories, for the continuation of sleaze? There are other topics thrown in for good measure, often little more than asides, Hawley casts pearls, and we must hope we are not swine! A classy, thought provoking thriller.

Before the Fall Amazon UK
Before the Fall Amazon USA

Mandy Aftel – Fragrant – The Secret Life of Scent

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Synaesthetic descriptions of perfumed delight

I am filled with admiration for Mandy Aftel’s writing about perfumery. Although a beautiful book to handle and read in ‘real’ form, with its thicker than normal, creamy coloured paper, beautiful, often archaic line drawings, and shiny, alluring woodcut/embossed type red cover, this is not a coffee table book. Rather, I would say Aftel is inviting you into imaginative, creative journeys of your own, those line drawings rather stirring the senses, connecting the reader to an old, but living history, in a way which artfully arranged, sumptuous colour photos of perfume bottles and ingredients could never do.

Aftel shows herself to have style and she shows herself to have substance.

Originally, Mandy Aftel, a highly respected American Artisan perfumer, was a psychotherapist, and what really appeals to me in her fascinating books is the reverse of the pile em high, whack em out ephemeral approach to instaperfume fashion. What insinuates from her books is relationship, a kind of development and connection which comes from the fact that she works with natural materials.

Fragrant, divided into 6 chapters, 5 of which place a particular plant and the fragrant material it produces, centre stage is an invitation to journey in time and in space with the material itself, and those who have tended it, prized it, grown it, harvested it, worked with it, transported it, thought about it and worn it.

There is something very special about a perfume from natural ingredients only. Firstly, it can never be standardised, and for some of us, that is a major part of its allure. The plant an essential oil or absolute may have been extracted from will have been a living, responsive entity. A batch of essential oil bought from this supplier, this year, from this place, will be somewhat different from the batch bought from the same supplier, from the same grower, last year, as the plant will be producing subtly varying chemistry, in response to this year’s changed growing conditions.

We might expect sumptious perfumes to have some of this

Aftel’s book invites reflection. Her major star playing aromatics, each of which indicates different facets about our relationship with aromatics, are Cinnamon (the once, highly exotic, call to adventure and the spice trade) Mint (home, the familiar, the cottage garden, the everyday – home) Frankincense, (the search to transcend, to interconnect, to find spirit) Ambergris (the frankly weird, a vomited up exudate from sperm whales, acted on by wind, water wave, sun to, if the finder is lucky, turn to monetary gold) and finally, Jasmine (the gorgeous, the provocative, the sensuous delight) Around these star players are others, and, also instructions to encourage the fragrantly curious to experiment, to source, to make your own.

£7000 worth of beachcombed dried whale vomit is a bit more surprising!

A bibliography invites further fragrant journeys, too

I also recommend her Essence and Alchemy which I reviewed last year

Oh lucky Statesiders, Aftel runs courses. She also will design you a bespoke perfume, but it must be done face to face – she leads you snuffling through her treasure chest of aromatics. She does also retail her existing perfume range, at reasonable prices (unlike the bespokes, which of course are a unique creation for a single user) Alas, I would have loved to purchase small samples of her existing perfumes, but shipping costs to the UK are savage. Not to mention our Brexited weak and wibbly pound

Go explore her website

Fragrant Amazon UK
Fragrant Amazon USA

Josephine Tey – The Daughter of Time

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Making the past sing a relevant song

It has been a real delight to read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time again, as part of Kaggsy’s bookish rambling’s ‘1951 club’ I came across this first in my teens and it was one of those books which stayed with me, as one of my favourite books in the genre ‘Crime Fiction’ Probably because it wasn’t about fictional crime at all (but more, later) – I had a kind of squeam about loving descriptions of bludgeonings and hackings – but was about a historical mystery – so it might be, (it is!) educational as well as entertaining

Tey, a jolly good writer of mysteries and detection, fascinated by psychology, and not dwelling overmuch in bloody gore, uses the crime fiction genre to deconstruct a historical villain – or, at least, one who has come down to us as villain – Richard III. The one who had the innocent lamb sons of his brother, Edward IV, brutally done to death in the Tower. The vile and hunchbacked monster so memorably portrayed by Laurence Olivier in Shakespeare’s play of the same name:

Now is the win-ter of our dis-con-tent
Made glorious sum-mer by this son of York

There continues a soliloquy full of great self-loathing, bitterness and grimness, giving the psychology in a nutshell which will let the audience know the man is a monster and will be prepared for the most heinous of misdeeds

………………………………………………..I
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on my own deformity.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determin-ed to prove a villain.

Earliest surviving portrait, circa 1520, copy of a previous

Shakespeare, of course, our wonderful Shakespeare, was living in Tudor times, Specifically, Elizabethan. Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII, bluff King Hal, wife murderer, son of Henry VIIth, first Tudor, the one who had killed the vile Richard in 1485 ‘ ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse……..’ at the battle of Bosworth. Henry VII, saviour we are told, ended the ruination of The Wars of The Roses, uniting the Yorkists (of whose number Richard was) and the Lancastrians (of whom Henry was a distant claimant to be king) by marrying the lambkin princes’ sister Elizabeth. Hurrah, rescuing us all from the wicked Uncle Richard, who had murdered his nephews.

Except – Shakespeare takes his history from Holinshed, who takes his history from the sainted Sir Thomas More. Who lived through these times…….except, he was 5 when Richard came to the throne, and 8 when he died. Thomas More was a Tudor made man. And history, as we know, is written by the victors.

Interestingly the Shakespeare ‘I am a nasty piece of work’ opening soliloquy suggests prematurity

                                               sent before my time Into this breathing world

yet the equal and opposite ‘man was a monster’ myth was that his mother, Cecily Neville has been pregnant with him for 2 years and he was born with a full head of black hair and a mouth full of teeth!

Re-reading this marvellously entertainingly presented history lesson this time, forcefully struck me by its topicality. Tey does not just look at the creation of ‘false news’ in Richard’s time – or, to be more honest, in Henry’s time, but scattered through these pages is evidence of a lot more ‘false news’ some of it twentieth century, and always produced for political/power capital

She uses a great device here – her detective, Inspector Alan Grant, of Scotland Yard, is laid up in bed, flat on his back – for weeks – in hospital, following a severely broken leg, falling through a trap-door, chasing a villain.

This inevitably made me laugh a little wryly. This book was published in 1951. The NHS would have been very young. And perhaps Inspector Grant was quite unusual and maybe of some means. Laid up for weeks in hospital? In a private room? How times have probably changed. I doubt most Inspectors or most anyone would either find private insurance schemes keeping them in bed in a single room for some weeks. Okay, medicine has also moved on and perhaps a badly broken leg is otherwise more speedily mended

Alan Grant does, however, move amongst the cultured great and good, as a good friend is a celebrity West End actress, much admired, who visits him in hospital. Seeking to relieve his grumpy boredom, and knowing his interest in faces, she picks up a job lot of historical portrait photos from another good chum who works fairly high-up at the V + A. One of the portraits is of Richard, and Grant becomes fascinated by the mismatch between the historical monster and his face (mind you, the best known portrait was also painted around 100 years after his death!)

Tey slides in the historical information as Grant investigates (with a tame American researcher who looks like a woolly lamb) in a very easy to assimilate fashion, by the introduction of memorable well drawn secondary characters, including the hospital staff, with whom Grant can be ‘undry’

And the reader (well this one) becomes as eager to unravel a historical mystery as Grant.

Of course, it turns out that the theory Tey is proposing is not (and was not) a new one, at the time of her writing, but she probably did a lot to begin to rescue Richard’s reputation, because she was a popular crime fiction writer.

There have been, since, other historical writers – Alison Weir for one, – who challenge the conclusions Tey makes, many of which came from a 1906 book by Clements Markham.

I wonder how many people became fascinated by history, due to an early exposure to Tey’s book.

The writer herself was born Elizabeth Mackintosh and died in 1952 She had two pen names, Josephine Tey, as here, and as the playwright Gordon Daviot

This book has achieved enduring popularity, voted number one in The Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time list compiled by the British Crime Writers’ Association, in 1990, and, in a 1995 American Poll of The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time list compiled by the Mystery Writers of America it held the 4th position

The recent discovery of the skeleton buried under a Leicester car park, identified as Richard’s from mitochondrial DNA analysis comparison with a sample analysed from that of a known descendant ,  shows that Richard was not a hunchback (probable Tudor paint-the-monster invention). He did have scoliosis, a fairly common twisting of the spine away from a perfect perpendicular, but this would not (given the degree of it) been visible from observation of the clothed person

I can see how this book would particularly appeal to late teens and twenties readers, who often have a strong sense of the wrongs of injustice, as the whole search for ‘the truth’ by Grant, and his woolly lamb American researcher Brent Carradine, is ‘un-dry’ precisely because of the passionate intensity to right a wrong.

The Daughter of Time Amazon UK
The Daughter of Time Amazon USA

Elizabeth Kostova – The Shadow Land

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Putting away childish tales of dark mythology: Twentieth Century History has darker shadows

the-shadow-landOnce I had let go of my expectations and the still resonant allure of Kostova’s first novel, The Historian, I surrendered totally to a tale far darker, and far more needing-to-be-told, a warning note echoing beyond the pages of fiction

I started this, given the setting, and the publisher blurb : “From the #1 bestselling author of The Historian comes an engrossing novel that spans the past and the present and unearths the dark secrets of Bulgaria, a beautiful and haunted country” with an erroneous assumption that those ‘dark secrets’ would be, like The Historian, some of the ones from myth and long ago times. Particularly as, deliberately or not, there are a few hints and reminders which might indicate that we could be in Undead territory. Instead, what unfolds is something far more serious, far more potent, far more relevant, reminding us that tales of myth, magic and legend may perhaps be curious and safe entertainment, fantasy horrors, protecting us from the real horrors which we visit on each other in the name of ideology

Set in the first decade of this century, Alexandra Boyd, a young American woman with the desire to be a writer, and with a tragedy in her own past, arrives in Bulgaria, a country with a personal resonance from her childhood, in order to take up a teaching/study assignment.

Boyd has an accidental tangle with a charismatic older man and his two elderly companions, on her first arrival. In seeking to help the elderly couple, clearly in some difficulty, get a taxi, and help the three to load their various bags into the taxi, Boyd finds to her horror that she seems to have mixed up one of their bags, with her own. In a strange country, without knowing the language, she does not quite know what to do, how to find the threesome, how best to get the missing luggage back to them. Although clearly a kindly young woman, she is also mesmerised by the English speaking man accompanying the elderly couple, so this fires her desire to find the trio and return the missing item, one which is unusual, and highly significant.

He was a very good man who thought he was a very bad man. That is a -difficult combination…..Sometimes – sometimes we know a person who is a very bad man but who thinks he is a good man. Maybe that is even more bad. Even worse. Worse, because the bad man, who thinks he is good, thinks that he can do anything to anybody

Boyd engages a waiting taxi driver, a rather mysterious one, who not only speaks English, but is curiously willing to help her………….

Sofia and Vitosha Mountain

                           Sofia and Vitosha Mountain

And thus unfolds a mystery, where nothing is going to be quite what it seems (including this reader’s assumptions about ‘Bulgaria’s dark secrets’ The twentieth century, unfortunately, is full of dark secrets, most around politics, systems, ideologies and regimes: the pursuit of power and the lengths some will go to achieve it.

I have often thought that the terrible thing in communism was not just that we turned against each other. It was that we turned away from each other

Having started this in the hope of some kind of intelligent, beautifully written page turner about mythic, medieval history, and a modern woman on a search for a legendary, imaginative past, to help distract me from the present, I found instead something which made me wonder more about a future I hope we are not travelling towards, with various unprincipled, ferociously egotistic men occupying political power at this time.

I think young people now don’t know much about those times, or don’t understand – they think it’s always been as it is now, the mobile phones and friends on the Internet and lots of people going to other countries to work

I found, for sure, an intelligent, beautifully written page turner about all too real history: the shadow of the last war, the shadow of the communist bloc, and some of those who moved into power (and where from) after the Berlin wall came down.

There is a lot in here which recounts that horrific history, as Kostova pursues a tale which is at times in two times – the early fifties, and the first decade of the twentyfirst century. It is excellently done, and even though the story takes a little while to get its real momentum going, it is quietly gripping from the start – and then relentlessly gripping. There are some real surprises too. Nor is the story unremittingly dark. As ever, human heart, the kindness within, and the various redemptive paths humankind take to try and walk away from our shadows, is a kind of compass to true North. And art is one of those needles for true North – music, visual art, literature, poetry especially – a search for transcendence and life of the spirit.kostovaelizabeth

And, in the end, I think Kostova has here, written something more powerful.

The traditional music of Bulgaria is not an integral part of this book, but I can’t resist a chance to include it. An extraordinary tradition, suffused with sadness, laced with aliveness

I received this as an ARC from the publisher, via NetGalley. And it is published on April 11th

The Shadow Land Amazon UK
The Shadow Land Amazon USA