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Mr. D. James "nonsuch" (london, uk)
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The Boy Who Loved Books: A Memoir
The Boy Who Loved Books: A Memoir
by John Sutherland
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars The Boy Who Loved Books John Sutherland catches the spirit of what it ..., 23 May 2016
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Sutherland, John. The Boy Who Loved Books

John Sutherland catches the spirit of what it feels like to be an only child, although in fact he had two parents alive in his early years. The severance between John and his mother could be in part attributed to his father’s early death, although WW2 and his mother’s willingness, if not eagerness, to foist her only son off on to his grandmother Salter, and indeed anyone else available, makes it plain that her need to be shot of him predominated.

Sutherland makes it plain that his devotion to school was minimal. He learned to be ‘a bad timekeeper, a bookworm and stale chip eater’ in Colchester, around which the bulk of the memoir revolves. His mother ensured that he had adult care, pocket money and what for those days was very good schooling, but he preferred movies, fishing and of course books, preferably not assigned texts. At that time of life it could be said he preferred Fanny Hill to ‘Fern Hill.’ Sir Cyril Burt’s IQ tests which dominated school curricular for decades are Sutherland’s bÍte noire, although Butler’s Education Act incurs his constant approval.

As one might expect from a Lord Northcliffe Professor at UCL the book is bejewelled with literary reference. Books are his friends and he will go anywhere to talk about them, be they never so humble (Warwick Deeping) or superficial (Colin Wilson). Sutherland rose to the top despite Burt and beer (he is proud to have been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous). He is equally proud of his attendance at his failgate entrance into higher education at the once-despised Leicester University, citing its many luminaries including Richard Hoggart, another boy who needed no Oxbridge credentials to make it big in academe.

Altogether this is a hugely enjoyable memoir, neither self-important nor self-excusing. Some of the portraits of idle teachers at CRGS (Colchester Grammar) are hilarious as well as being heart-warming. With suitable modesty, this writer of many books concludes that he was simply lucky: ‘I merely coincided with a historical opportunity.’ And took advantage of it, I would add, to in later years cock a snook at that much revered but seemingly snobbish as ever Oxbridge brigade.


The Face of the Third Reich
The Face of the Third Reich
by Joachim C. Fest
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars the infantile gormand who loved playing with toy soldiers to the cultured Goebels and ..., 23 May 2016
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Fest, Joachim C. The Face of the Third Reich

This insightful book into the characters of The Reich Chancellor, Adolph Hitler, and his closest National Socialist consorts goes some way to explaining the almost inexplicable power that bound its leaders. At the core of National Socialism lies the idea of racial superiority. As Fest explains in his chapter on Reinhard Heydrich. ‘It was directed at will against whatever groups those in power wished to destroy … beginning with the sterilization and euthanasia programmes and ending with the Final Solution.’

What I found most interesting in this somewhat out-of-date book is the variety of characters who bound themselves whole-heartedly to Hitler, at least until his downfall. From Goring, the infantile gormand who loved playing with toy soldiers to the cultured Goebels and the non-Aryan Heydrich all found cover for their insecurities in racism. The same went for Hess, Ribbentrop and Himmler. Although ‘The Moscow Pact struck a decisive blow against Alfred Rosenberg’s naÔve loyalty to his Führer,’ only Albert Speer disputed Hitler’s invulnerability.

Although Rudolf Höss was the commandant of the extermination camp at Auschwitz he found he was ‘not suited to concentration camp sevice.’ But in his autobiography, this man whose father intended him for the priesthood bowed down to authority; ‘from my earliest youth I was brought up with a strong awareness of duty. In my parents’ house it was insisted that every task be exactly and conscientiously carried out.’ The thought of refusing an order never entered his head.

When the book was published in 1963, Germany was divided into zones and Fest shows considerable fear of the ‘totalitarian infection’ of the German people. But since then we have had gladnost and an enlarged European community. Nationalism in Europe is comparatively benign these days, but who knows for how long the sleeping giant will remain comatose?


Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Harper Perennial Modern Classics
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Harper Perennial Modern Classics
by Hunter S. Thompson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in Las ..., 17 May 2016
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Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Fear and Loathing is basically a rant against the Establishment. It has its roots in journalism and is the prime example of what Thompson dubbed ‘Gonzo’ or cartoon journalism. Here one finds the truth of one man’s search for the American Dream, but the book is more an attempt to expose the corruption at the heart of American society. The author does this through huge black banner headlines from the daily press, Steadman’s grotesque caricatures of angry, fat, snarling human beasts and a writing style that is deliberately non-literary.

It is a book that will mainly appeal to the adolescent and the disaffected. Thompson and his ‘attorney’ are on the road to Las Vegas, the drug capital of a drug-infested United States, driving a super-charged rented Red Shark, crammed with Class A drugs. Both are stoned from the start and remain that way throughout. Vegas is a pleasure city, where everything goes bang, but especially girls and guns. It’s the mid-Sixties and the enemy are the police, who are everywhere, threatening, intimidating and brutal under a veneer of care - but infinitely bribable. The search for The Dream is never-ending and pointless.

Where Henry Miller explored not only Europe but philosophy and literature, Thompson remains on American soil, a cynical joker, celebrating not sex but crime at the heart of a society, from which he himself, benefits and in which he glories. ‘In a world of thieves’, he tells us, ‘the only final sin is stupidity.’


Hangover Square: A Story of Darkest Earl's Court (Penguin Modern Classics)
Hangover Square: A Story of Darkest Earl's Court (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Patrick Hamilton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars On Becoming 'A Real Man', 14 May 2016
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Hamilton, Patrick. Hangover Square

Patrick Hamilton’s novel based in Earls Court and Brighton in 1939 is possibly the best anti-romantic novel ever written in English. First published in 1941 by Constable, it was reissued by Penguin in 1956 and became a Penguin Modern Classics book in 2001, sixty years after first publication. JB Priestley in his 1972 introduction finds Hamilton ‘above all the novelist of the homeless,’ which exactly describes the mood of the book. ‘He takes us into a kind of No-Man’s-Land of shabby hotels, dingy boarding-houses and all those saloon bars where the homeless can meet,’ says Priestley, and he does this through exploring the interior world of his unlikely hero George Harvey Bone.

Bone is the classic ‘muff’ as Thackeray would call him. He is large, awkward and slavishly devoted to a woman who despises him. His romantic advances to Netta are apologetic and self-disparaging. He knows he stands no chance of engaging the attentions of this beautiful creature, yet cannot save himself from persisting in his timid approaches. Netta’s interest in George is undisguisedly one of convenience. Bone (her appellation throughout) is able to fund her life of pleasure, but he can in no way advance her social or theatrical career; the very reverse in fact. Netta emerges as a heartless scheming tart, seen through by all her male escorts, including, strangely enough, the aspiring Bone himself.

So far, so banal, but George Bone knows this and Hamilton skillfully addresses this weakness by providing a shell into which his hero ‘snaps’ or ‘cracks’ at frequent intervals. When inside the shell George sees Netta as despicable, so much so that from the outset he plans her death and his escape from justice and retirement to the country - to the aptly named Maidenhead, where safe from police and the dreary round of pubs he can live in peace. A man of two worlds, he plans to triumph over Netta so that if he can’t ‘have’ her he will kill her - and indeed Peter, the ex-killer and jailbird to whom she allows favours. George Harvey Bone is a great planner, a self-tortured romancer, but not until the end of the book does he stop crying and become, as he puts it, ‘a real man.’


The Girl on the Pier
The Girl on the Pier
Price: £2.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tomkins, Paul. The Girl on the Pier I ..., 8 May 2016
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Tomkins, Paul. The Girl on the Pier

I first heard about this novel through Tomkins’s article in Self Publishing magazine, where the author gives a history of his difficulties in getting it commercially published. I can now understand at least some of the reasons why. First the plot, which simply ends with its hero, Patrick, telling the reader he doesn’t know where to draw the line between past and present, because ‘in life, it seems, there is always unfinished business,’ whereas in novels we crave conclusions. This is a somewhat ingenuous comment on the reasons for the story’s inconclusiveness, for Patrick is on the point of being unmasked as at least a potential murderer of Genevieve, his childhood sweetheart, who has a habit of running away at crucial moments. Of course Genevieve is also confounded with Black, the narrator’s second obsession. With neither of these amoureuses does our hero manage to get into anything but fantasy relationships, being too young for Geraldine and too shy with Black, who also disappears and reappears with alarming inconsistency - in both mind and body.

The problem with the novel in my view is that Patrick is unstable, not only an unreliable narrator but a self-confessed liar. The novel’s only saving grace is David, the one-foot-in-the-grave forensic restorer who works for the police. Whether he will dish the dirt on Patrick before dying is left open. Whether Patrick will eventually come clean and confess is also a matter of conjecture. The novel needs a second volume to help clear up the mess, and to be fair the details of Brighton and its pier where Patrick and Black, the chaste lovers, seem to have mentally consumated their relationship are depicted in loving detail. The decaying pier, the dominant symbol, stays in the mind long after reading the book.


A Minger`s Tale: Beginnings
A Minger`s Tale: Beginnings
Price: £4.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Minger’s Tale Like Paul McVeigh’s The Good Son and Frank McCourt’s Angela’s ..., 18 April 2016
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Bookmark, R.B.N. A Minger’s Tale

Like Paul McVeigh’s The Good Son and Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes Ribban Bookmark’s A Minger’s Tale is a childhood memoir grounded in poverty. Although his parents are also poor Irish, his story is contemporary, being based on growing up in the1960-80s in Manchester. But ‘my school days,’ he tells the reader, ‘were interrupted to a large extent by illness,’ and he was a slow learner, neglected by most of his teachers.

From the start, a note of ‘Blame the Bastards’ is sounded. Neither McVeigh nor McCourt apportion blame of any kind; they are too busy, borrowing, praying and scheming for food and shelter. Ribban is different. His family has television, a heated council flat and a UB40 card entitling him to benefits while job-seeking. He admits to being a ‘minger,’ defined by the OED as as a bad or unpleasant person - but more gently by Ribban as one ‘Who fell out of an ugly tree at birth and hit every branch on the way down.’ So the tone is set for the Minger’s story, one of complaint and self-justification. It ends with the gleeful trashing of a centre for summer fruit-pickers.

The spurs to Ribban’s venture into publishing were two-fold: his father’s death and a television programme featuring a writer’s debut on Amazon. Mr Bookmark is mainly absent (working or in the pub) in the story, his wife taking charge of domestic matters and the children. Nevertheless A Minger’s Tale celebrates the fact that today almost anybody can write and publish. Many will find the hero’s addiction to cliché and puns tiresome, but as a working man’s confession it is at least authentic.


Father and Son
Father and Son
by Edmund Gosse
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.65

5.0 out of 5 stars the youth becomes intoxicated with a pagan love story, Jonson’s‘Hero and Leander, 12 April 2016
This review is from: Father and Son (Paperback)
Gosse, Edmund. Father and Son.

Puiblished anonymously in 1907, this account of the stifling effect of religious intolerance on a growing boy is not condemned, but accepted and even approved of by the child. Only as Edmund grows into manhood does he do what today’s reader expects - insist on a total demolition of doctrinaire repression. For the most part Edmund tolerates the constraints imposed by his on the whole benign parents. God’s will and God’s purpose dominates the boy’s mind, the crucial question being how does a human know them?

Edmund is almost to adulthood in thrall to the mind of God, particularly as exposed by his loving father and the last wishes of his mother that the boy will take up holy orders and spread the Word of God. Much earnest prayer is involved in the attempt to unlock the will of God, and ‘behind my Father stood the ethereal memory of my Mother’s will.’ But looking back fifty years upon his childhood, the son regrets his parents’ ‘narrowness, isolation, an absence of perspective … an absence of humanity.’

The first family crisis occurs when Edmund defies his father’s wish to exclude him from a party. Both agree to ‘lay the matter before the Lord,’ but each receives a contrary verdict. The boy is allowed to go ‘although in sore disgrace,’ and although as it were sanctioned by the Lord, this is his first sign of defiance. Further inroads into the father’s influence is made when Edmund’s stepmother introduces Scott, Dickens and Shakespeare into his life. Rather as John Stuart Mill discovered poetry in late adolescence, the youth becomes intoxicated with a pagan love story, Jonson’s‘Hero and Leander.’ On which his father denounces the boy for bringing into the house this ‘abominable’ book, which he then burns.

The latter pages of the book are largely given over to the father’s letters to his son. Absent from his father’s influence, in the sinful city of London, the boy is roundly reproved for his unspecified ‘dreadful conduct’ in having ignored the Holy Scriptures. But the young man, seeing that his esteemed parent offers no truce or compromise, takes ‘a human being’s privilege to fashion his inner life for himself


Voss
Voss
by Patrick White
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

5.0 out of 5 stars like those of Melville’s Moby-Dick, 27 Mar. 2016
This review is from: Voss (Paperback)
White, Patrick. Voss.
Voss, the hero of this epic novel set in Australia, leads a group of men into the outback where they suffer and ultimately perish. Restless and discontented, all of these men, like those of Melville’s Moby-Dick, are bewitched by the magnetism of an obsessed leader to encounter storm and stress in what seems to be a mad and purposeless venture. The early chapters focus on the gathering of suitable materials and men fit and willing to undertake this perilous venture. They are, if you like, a microcosm of society, poor and rich, believers or sceptics, boys and men, black and white. Opposed to these active men are the women, occupied with parties, weddings, social sparring and all awaiting news from the explorers.
The action oscillates from one group to the other, linked in the main by the unlikely love between Laura Trevelyan and Voss, who meet only once socially but continually in their spiritual hankering. In fact fluctuation between the body and the spirit is a key motif throughout the book, which continually asks questions about what is real and what imaginary. White is constantly probing the nature of the world, its physical basis and its spiritual meaning. It seems that Laura and Voss are drawn to each other mainly by a mutual awareness of this dichotomy.
This is a very long and gripping tale of endurance and steadfastness, lightened of course by the sheer frivolity of the domestic scene at home, where picnics and parties, clothes and elegant conversation take precedence. While the dying poet Le Mesurier grows yellow ‘and the eyes in his hairy, melted face were become quite visionary’ Belle Bonner at home decides she will be married in white. And it seems that never the twain will meet, for none but the ‘clever’ and ‘peculiar’ Laura can understand much beyond the ballroom.
The tension of the novel depends on the two ‘sides’ being kept apart. Will Voss return? He is a man of steel, but can his heart be pierced by love? ‘What do you expect of Voss?’ asks the practical ‘ordinary sort of fellow’ Tom Radclyffe of Laura at a dancing party. But there is no answer. Voss is and will remain to other more ordinary men a symbol of mythic status, akin to Melville’s Ahab and Conrad’s Mistah Kurz.


At the Chime of a City Clock
At the Chime of a City Clock
by D.J. Taylor
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars eventually contriving to be alone with Susie - although ‘I didn’t enjoy it much, 21 Mar. 2016
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Taylor, DJ. At the Chime of a City Clock

DJ Taylor, renowned as a literary critic and biographer, shows in this novel that he is equally at home in writing historical mystery novels. Set in 1930s London Taylor adopts a mainly first person narrative using down-and-out James Ross as his focus. Ross is a failed writer seeking to remain afloat by selling carpet cleaner on a door-to-door basis. He owes his landlady rent and consoles himself at the Wheatsheaf, reflecting on past loves and the possibility of making out with Susie, who works in the office of Mr Rasmussen, a wanted criminal. Susie is a delightful if unreliable young woman who admires James mainly it seems for being a writer of sorts.

This gritty novel is set in the Depression of the Thirties, long before the welfare state, when a man needed all his wits about him to survive. Most of the chapters are introduced by epigraphs of advice from the Abraxas Salesman’s Handbook, pep talks acting as an ironical contrast to the reality of life on the streets. The reader is taken to dog-racing at White City, witnesses a cat-burgler and his mates at work over a jeweller’s and finally joins Ross at a country house party at Newcome Grange, where Susie and Rasmussen occupy themselves on a higher floor, while Ross hangs about chatting to society ladies, eventually contriving to be alone with Susie - although ‘I didn’t enjoy it much. But then I never do.’

At the Chime of a City Clock is not a success story and neither does it have a happy ending. James returns to his memories, receives a letter from his ex-fiancée, but is unimpressed. He returns to his landlady, has a few poems accepted for The Blue Bugloss, which pays its contributors with Coutts and Co cheques, ‘which impresses the old lady no end.’ We leave James Ross before the final chapter with his poem published in the New English Review, December 1931, concluding with these unsentimental lines:
I was taught to believe in a better age
That had been before and would come again
Settled instead for a living wage
An English sky, and English rain.

Meanwhile Mr Rasmussen stows away with a Miss Chanberlain. Telling her he will now go into politics. ‘There’s no money to be made in business any more.’ He watches her appreciatively as she throws overboard a note from a presumed admirer and ‘A moment or two later they went below.’ Cynical, but true to life as we know it.


Quite A Good Time to be Born: A Memoir: 1935-1975 by David Lodge (29-Jan-2015) Hardcover
Quite A Good Time to be Born: A Memoir: 1935-1975 by David Lodge (29-Jan-2015) Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Lucky Lodge - A Double Winner!, 10 Mar. 2016
Lodge, David. Quite a Good Time to be Born

The first volume of David Lodge’s memoir (the second is to come) is a hefty tome covering the author’s life from his birth in 1935 to 1975. This volume of 488 pages is a scamper through the first 40 years of Lodge’s life, leaving the next 40+ years, one hopes, for the next volume. I first encountered Lodge’s work when studying in Canada. I was impressed by his critical acumen in an essay on Wuthering Heights, bound in a volume of miscellaneous criticism. Since then I have read with pleasure most of his later novels, for Lodge, like his friend Malcolm Bradbury is a hybrid author, equally at home in critical and creative writing. So when I saw the cover of a young boy on the cover of a book with ‘David Lodge’ displayed in huge white print, and bearing a red sticker saying ‘Half price’ I began reading in the shop.

Those who lived through the 1939-45 war will especially relish Lodge’s recall of famous radio comedians as well as movies such as The Wizard of Oz, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Bambi. ‘If I went to the cinema with my mother I would steer her towards comedies or musical comedies.’ Then in his teenage years he went to the cinema on his own and was ‘transfixed and transported’ by David Niven and Kim Hunter in A Matter of Life and Death. He leads the reader meticulously through his school life, which is followed equally meticulously by his entry into the sixth form at St Joseph’s Academy, a Catholic school in Lewisham, where he remained chaste, having ‘no ambitions to have sexual intercourse … it was simply not imaginable, given the social and religious constraints of my upringing.’

For a novelist who obviously enjoys portraying affairs du coeur and its maifold deceptions (he has a high old time with HG Wells in A Man of Parts, for example) this reticence is somewhat surprising, but as he says about his adolescent shyness with girls, he was a victim of a Catholic upbringing where random sexual activity is expressly forbidden. One senses throughout this memoir a straining at the leash, a discontent with Catholic mores, despite his rigid adherence to Papal law. Lodge has been especially a dissident on the matter of birth control, having written pamphlets and spoken out strongly against Papal intransigence. In fact his overarching interest in Catholic novelists has been pronounced from the start.

This volume comes replete with photographs of many of the characters m the Lodge story, including his wife Mary whom he met at a Fresher dance, his father bearing an alto saxophone, his mother at the seaside carrying baby David in 1935, Park Honan and family at Rhode Island, Richard Hoggart in his office at Birmingham University and of course our author himself, usually unsmiling and intense, as he certainly is in his devotion to work.


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