Monday, 4 October 2010

Great Reads fpr October 2010



The long song, by Andrea Levy

Everyone has read of the evils of slavery in America and the war that was fought between the States to emancipate its victims, but less has been written about the equal injustice perpetrated by the British Empire, who transported slaves from Africa to harvest the huge sugar plantations they established in the Caribbean.  Andrea Levy in her third novel, takes us back to the times of her forebears in early 19thcentury Jamaica, a time of complete dominance by the white planters, a time of regarding their slaves as livestock, to be traded, sold or disposed of any way they saw fit – until that same ‘livestock’ rose up in bloody revolt, leading eventually to King William 1V declaring an end to the British Slave Trade.  This is Ms Levy’s first excursion into history;  previously she has written tellingly and well of contemporary race relations in Britain;  now she explores the rich and violent path of her ancestors in Jamaica, treating us to a life as seen through the eyes of Miss July, a house slave in the Big House of the Amity Plantation.  At the end of her life, Miss July is writing her memoir at the behest of her son, and what a story it is, full of humour, cruelty, deprivation and great sorrow, for Miss July has been used badly – and has badly used people in return.  Regardless, she is sly (she tells lies!), funny and utterly irrepressible;  she is an unforgettable singer of ‘The Long Song’, as she calls her memoir:  long may her music sound.

The lion and Wildfire, by Nelson de Mille

 It’s always a pleasure to recommend a book by Nelson de Mille - he is a consummate master of the perfect airport and beach read;   his books are page-turners par excellence.  He can get a little long-winded sometimes, but he’s ALLOWED.  He produces so much high quality suspense in his writing that he can be forgiven for occasionally flagging in pace or getting bogged down with more detail than his readers  think they  need.  In his latest book ‘The Lion’, sequel to ‘The Lion’s Game’ and the previous ‘Wild Fire’, Mr. de Mille has no problems at all with the tempo as he  again treats us to his danger-prone and irreverent protagonist John Corey, Special Contract Agent (after various misadventures with the NYPD) for the FBI.  John’s a bit of a maverick;  bad guys seem to walk into his innocent fists often;  he has been known to say ‘Who, me?’ when various villains fall unconscious (or even dead) at his feet:  in short he treads a very fine line between permissible force and police brutality – not to mention insubordination - but he’s just the man to have onside against the most feared Islamic terrorist of them all, The Lion, back again to wreak death and destruction on long- suffering post 9/11 New York.  Mr. de Mille is known for his impeccable and thorough research – at no time do we feel that we must suspend belief in the plot and its fascinating characters  – until Mr. Corey ‘inadverdently’ causes another villain to bite the dust.  And our Hero proves that he is indeed a well-rounded personality,  for his daily existence has elements of the mundane from time to time.  Normal life intervenes when his wife suggests that they go wine-tasting at the weekend:  in his mind he replies ‘Wine tasting?  WINE TASTING? What kind of crap idea is that?!’  In reality he says’ Darling, what a great idea, let’s do it.’  Proof, if we ever needed it, that Mr. de Mille is intimately familiar with real life situations as well as death-defying suspense.  What a good writer he is, and how well he deserves his huge readership.

The invisible bridge, by Julie Orringer   

This is a wonderful story.  It has been a rare privilege to read such rich and beautiful prose, to be swept up and carried along by the relentless tide of history -  even though we know the terrible outcome, for Ms. Orringer has written a novel of the Holocaust.  This is a risky subject on which to write as everyone knows  of the heinous crimes of the second world war, the extermination of millions of Jews, and the sheer tragedy visited upon families and generations yet to come, but the author succeeds admirably because of the strength and believability of her characters.  The novel starts in 1937, when Hungarian student Andras Levi wins a scholarship to attend the Ecole Speciale, a venerable school of Architecture in Paris.  His life and that of his brothers Tibor and Matyas are chronicled;  their hopes, dreams and ambitions;  their love affairs and eventual marriages;  then the agonizing privations they suffer as part of Hungary’s Jewish ‘Labour Force’, cannon fodder as the expendable front line of Hungary’s Army fighting for Germany against the Allies.  The war years are predictably horrendous, not only for the unimaginable loss of beloved family, but the destruction of entire cities and lifestyles, bombed out of existence.  How could anything ever be resurrected from such annihilation?   Despite the seriousness of the subject, Ms. Orringer has not written a tragedy;  rather it is a compelling story of Life in all its guises; heart-wrenching, comic, dramatic, powerful, triumphant and moving – which is what life can be for all of us .  FIVE STARS.

The adamantine palace and King of the crags, by Stephen Deas   

Here be dragons – lots of them!  For lovers of fantasy fiction, Stephen Deas is the new Flavour of the Month, and for those of us who previously decried such nonsense (like myself) – well, we’ll all have to eat our words, for Mr. Deas has effortlessly captured our attention, hearts and minds with the sheer brio and excitement of his story-telling, and he won’t release us until he finishes the series – however long that may be.  Not that I mind, for he can tell A Story-and-a-Half:  The Realms are a loose federation of Kingdoms who depend on their dragons for their power;  bred, guarded and nurtured by their keepers, they are ridden by the aristocracy, used for hunting and warfare and kept docile by the Alchemists with a mysterious potion added to their food;  without it they would return to their natural state, uncontrollable and terrifying, able to destroy armies and turn cities to ash – and one of them has escaped.  The leadership of the Realms is also ready for change:  enter Prince Jehal, power-hungry and unscrupulous, ready to murder if he has to – and he does, reaping unexpected and unwanted consequences.  In fact the Prince, nasty as he is, gains the reader’s sneaky sympathy by the end of the second book of the series – what WAS he thinking?  Couldn’t he see the danger coming?  The fool better smarten up his act in Book 3!  And so on.  In other words, a complete entertainment, totally addictive with great characters – and those dragons.  Oh, those dragons:  I’d love one for a pet, if I had a place big enough to keep it (and several dairy herds to feed it).  Perhaps I could do a deal to rent the Waitomo caves?