Thursday, 27 October 2016

LAST GREAT READS FOR OCTOBER, 2016

My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante
         
Ms Ferrante has caused a furore in the literary world:  apart from the superb quality of her writing, she is also very strict about anonymity, Elena Ferrante being a pseudonym.  She believes that novels should be born, then stand alone without the weight of an author’s name behind them propping them up.  Fair enough, but it is obvious that the search for Ms Ferrante’s true identity is ongoing, if only for the fact that someone so much the master of her craft should never remain secret, for Ms Ferrante has produced a remarkable feat, a quartet of novels that are unforgettable.
The first, ‘My Brilliant Friend’, opens in 1950’s Naples, that teeming, corrupt city overshadowed by Vesuvius and plagued by crime and poverty, particularly in the area that eight-year-old Elena Greco lives.  A porter’s daughter, she longs to be friends with the local shoemaker’s daughter, Rafaella, called Lila, for Lila is wild, different, a disturbance in the classroom, but of superior intelligence:  if only there were some way to impress Lila, to make her see that she, Elena, is smart too, worthy of her friendship though more of a follower than the instigator of mischief that Lila unleashes so effortlessly:  Elena feels that if she can persist in her attempts at friendship, it will be a win-win situation for them both.  For Lila has a natural brilliance, a propensity to soak up knowledge (and languages) like a sponge, that Elena must benefit from just by association.  She wants to be a scholar too, but doesn’t learn as easily as Lila, who is generous with advice on how to retain knowledge that eludes so many of their classmates.
Their friendship grows over the years, overshadowed by the stark poverty and casual, everyday violence that is a feature in the lives of their families and neighbours.  Money and the lack of it colours all decisions, and it is considered a triumph for Lila and Elena to go from elementary to middle school, much against parental objections, especially from Elena’s mother who says she should be earning a wage somewhere (at barely thirteen) to help the family.  Lila’s family is no different and at the same age she is seconded to her father’s shoe repair shop to ‘learn proper work’ with her brother Rino, who is already seething with discontent, for he has been ‘learning proper work’ for years and has not been paid a penny for his efforts because it is ‘for the good of the family’.
The only families doing well in the neighbourhood are those whom everyone is afraid of:  the family of Don Achille Carracci, grocer and black marketeer, eventually murdered by a carpenter he ruined, and the Solara family, local gangsters and loan sharks operating within a pastry shop.  The sons of these two families are the local lords of all they survey, and as Elena and Lila develop it becomes plain that Lila, the free spirit who laughs in their faces, is the prize.  The one who must be brought to heel, to show respect.
Ms Ferrante ends Book One with the explosive finale of Lila’s wedding at the age of sixteen to the grocer Stefano Carracci;  he has set up her father and brother in the business of crafting shoes designed by her;  he has showered clothes, furniture and a brand-new apartment on her, and Lila feels she has made a fine marriage, saving her family from continued penury – until the wedding reception, when it becomes abundantly clear that Stefano has made a deal with the Devil.  Book Two is ‘The Story of a New Name.’  Can’t wait!  FIVE STARS.

Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler


           The Hogarth Press, originally established by Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard, has approached internationally known and acclaimed authors to take part in the Hogarth Shakespeare project, the object being to produce modern versions of some of Shakespeare’s most famous works.  I am unsure if ‘Nutshell’, by Ian McEwan applies;  he doesn’t appear to be on the official list of writers – but he should be!  It is a delicious account of baby Hamlet in the womb, listening in horror as his mother and uncle discuss foolproof ways to murder his father so that they may inherit (instead of the Danish throne) a crumbling but hugely profitable mansion in Belgravia.
            Who could possibly top that?  Well, no-one really, but Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Tyler has elected to tackle ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, the Bard’s paean to misogyny, and the bane of feminists – and ordinary women – since it was first written.  She does a sublime job.
            Italy becomes the American state of Maryland, specifically Ms Tyler’s beloved Baltimore, the setting for most of her lovely stories.  Kate Batista is twenty-nine, a college dropout and reduced to keeping house for her largely absent father, a revered scientist researching autoimmune diseases, and her vacuous, empty-headed (but pretty and popular!) younger sister Bunny.  She knows that life is passing her by but she feels powerless to change her circumstances, until her father, desperate to keep his brilliant Russian research assistant whose visa is expiring, presents her with a request which she finds utterly outrageous:  marry Pyotr Cherbakov so that he can stay in the country and get a Green Card!  Her reward?  The knowledge that she has contributed to the unimpeded advance of vital scientific research!
            Needless to say, Kate is furious – she is a shrew, after all, something that Pyotr in his clumsy attempts to court her recognises early.  Not that it deters him:  ‘You are crazy about me, I think’, he states when Kate’s body language (not to mention her mouth) informs him of just the opposite.  He does not care;  he needs his Green Card, and the thought of having to return to Russia without finishing the exciting work he is doing with the world’s foremost researcher on autoimmune diseases fills him with dismay.  Besides, there is nothing for him to go back to:  he was a foundling, left on the steps of an orphanage in a box that held cans of peaches (brand name Cherbakov).  No:  his life must continue here in the U.S.A, where he has a chance to permanently  belong to a community – and a family.
            Ms Tyler was a finalist in last year’s Man Booker Prize (the first year it was opened to American writers) for her lovely novel ‘A Spool of Blue Thread’, see review below);  once again she beguiles the reader with prose as simple and natural as breathing, and she leaves no-one in doubt as to her mastery of Shakespeare’s comedic style, striking a blow (subtle though it has to be) for women everywhere with Kate’s wedding speech, in which she rationalises in the most charming, authoritative way Pyotr’s caveman tactics leading up to their hugely unceremonious marriage. 
            This is a little gem, and does the Hogarth Shakespeare Project proud.  SIX STARS!

A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler

Family dynamics:  that weary, well-worn euphemism for the myriad ways that people hurt those whom they should love most. 
            The clarion cry of ‘It’s not FAIR!’ engendered by sibling rivalry which, as siblings reach adulthood becomes ‘Why did they love you more than me?’ has never been portrayed with more skill, perception and humour than in Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Tyler’s peerless chronicle of a family’s life through three generations – not very long as a family ancestral record, but of sufficient length to draw the reader into this graceful story, because we recognise so much of it as our own.
            In 1994 Red and Abby Whitshank have four grown children.  They live in Baltimore, Maryland in a house that Red’s father built, and Red has taken over his father’s construction company after both his parents were killed in an accident.  Abby is a social worker, a woman who welcomes the waifs and strays, especially at Thanksgiving, a holiday her family secretly dreads for they never know which awful waifs will be present at the carving of the turkey – but Abby doesn’t care:  her heart is big and There But For the Grace of God etc etc.  More turkey, anyone?
            In the main, Red and Abby are content with their life and their family, whom they love dearly.  Amanda, the oldest girl is a lawyer;  Jeannie followed her father into the construction business, a bold step;  Douglas (called Stem for a very poignant reason) has also gone into the family company;  but Denny, the third child – well, Denny appears to have taken on the role of family failure;  family flitter-away-from-responsibility candidate;  family jack-of-all-trades – and master of none, despite much encouragement and many new starts,  assisted emotionally and financially each time by his parents.
Time passes inexorably;  Red and Abby age;  their family start families of their own – all except Denny.  His life is a mystery to them:  they have no idea where he lives, or what he does for a living – does he even work?  Then they receive an invitation to his wedding.  He is marrying the bride because she’s pregnant.  Oh.  Okay then.  They’ll have a grandchild to love and spoil!  Sadly, no.  Denny disappears for years, until family concern about Red and Abby’s vulnerability as they age brings him home, and what has been simmering beneath the family surface since childhood erupts in an ugly geyser of hatred and resentment:  Denny’s anger is never directed at himself;  he could never hold a mirror up to reveal his many faults:  instead, he lashes out at those who are the last to deserve his ire, causing ructions that are shocking but come as no surprise to anyone.
I can’t remember reading at any time a more perfect evocation of family life;  the petty jealousies, the perceptions real or imagined, of who loves who best, and the immense loyalty and unity only a family can draw on when tragedies occur.  And the great, beating heart of this family is contained in the house, built by their grandfather for someone else, but eventually becoming his, as told in beautiful flashbacks.
Roddy Doyle and Nick Hornby, both writers who ‘know their onions’ (my old gran used to say that often!) maintain that Anne Tyler is ‘the greatest novelist writing in English’ and it is easy to see why.  SIX STARS!!!   

      

Saturday, 15 October 2016

MORE GREAT READS FOR OCTOBER, 2016

The Jealous Kind, by James Lee Burke

          I have long been one of James Lee Burke’s staunchest fans;  consequently it comes as a big shock to the system to read his latest book and find it lacking in a lot of the attributes that make him so hugely popular worldwide with enormous numbers of thriller readers. 
            The above title is classed as a Hackberry Holland novel, Burke’s doughty Texan sheriff and his Texas Ranger ancestor of the same name (see previous reviews below) but its 1952 setting has characters who bear only a fleeting connection to the first Hackberry;  his grandson Aaron Holland Broussard is the main protagonist here but there is very little reference to his forebears.
            And that’s a shame, for ‘House of the Rising Sun’, the first Hackberry’s post World War One adventures was almost unsurpassable in plot, characterisation, imagery and suspense;  it is undeniably a hard act to follow, but Mr Burke’s fans never doubt that he will always pull another top quality story effortlessly from his cowboy hat. 
            Not this time.  Aaron Holland Broussard is seventeen years old and appears to have a death wish:  on a visit to a Galveston drive-in he intervenes in an argument  between ‘The Most Beautiful Girl in Houston’, Valerie Epstein (also seventeen) and her current boyfriend Grady Harrelson.  He sets in motion events and consequences which he never intended, for Grady’s father is enormously rich and has Mob connections.  Grady does not like to be humiliated by Aaron’s death-wish smart mouth in front of his hangers-on and Valerie, and a feud of mammoth proportions is born when Valerie publicly tells him to get lost and elects to go home alone.  To make matters worse, a romance, classic first love, trembles into life between Aaron and Valerie, oblivious of the dangers that threaten its growing strength;  they are so attuned to each other that they can’t imagine a  solo life in the future.  Nothing will part them – not even threats and attacks from a murderous Mafia chieftain and his brain-damaged son:  normal people would quail at the mere thought of attention from the Mafia, but Aaron is impervious to such danger, for he has ‘spells’ which turn him into a berserker, dispensing terrible, near-fatal beatings to those who light his fuse.
            Needless to say, even more threats are made, involving his parents and household pets:  he has to mount a counter-attack!  Fair enough, but let us remember that he is just a high school student;  he hasn’t even been drafted to Korea yet.  What does he know?  Well, a lot more than your average seventeen year old, the feasibility of which worries me more than a little, especially when he and Valerie beard the Mafia chieftain and his overweight minions in their den, have a huge slanging match with them – then walk away, still breathing. 
Nevertheless, Mr Burke engineers a satisfying if predictable climax;  the baddies are all eliminated with deaths deserving of their crimes;  then he informs us of each character’s fate in an Epilogue so perfunctory that they are cut off at the knees, appearing to bore him so much that their future is told in paragraphs.
That said, Mr Burke still pushes his story along at a satisfying pace;  the reader still wants to find out What Happens Next, but this time there are too many side-tracks and dead-ends in the plot, too many characters half-developed then dispensed with, to rate ‘The Jealous Kind’ more than FOUR STARS.

House of the Rising Sun, by James Lee Burke

I first doffed my hat to Mr Burke’s literary excellence when I read ‘Feast Day of Fools’ (see 2012 review below); now he delights us yet again with another rip-roaring tale of Hackberry Holland, Texas Lawman and singular hero of impossible situations, but this story travels back in time to the early years of the 20th century and the War to End All Wars:  Mr Burke writes of Hackberry Holland’s grandfather of the same name, a man with more demons than a fellow rightly needs, but (when he’s not killing no-good varmints and giving lesser baddies a good whuppin’) he is a man of honour, according to his own reasoning;  a champion of the weaker sex and those of colour – until he goes on a bender:  Marshal Holland and booze should never mix, for when they do all principles are forgotten and he becomes no better than those he despises.
The action begins in 1916 when Hackberry travels to Mexico in search of
His son Ishmael, an Army officer who leads a troop of coloured soldiers.  Hackberry has let down his son and the boy’s mother, Ruby Dansen in such a way that he feels he will never be able to make amends, but he has to make the attempt even if he is shunned for his efforts.  He doesn’t find his son, but finds trouble, lots of it;  in fact so much that he has to kill a Mexican General, plus several soldiers who are visiting a brothel run by a mysterious and beautiful (naturally) woman called Beatrice DeMolay.  The Madam has helped his son escape;  now Hackberry is happily indebted to her, but makes a formidable enemy when he blows up a hearse (yes, truly) packed with weaponry owned by an Austrian gunrunner called Arnold Beckman – but not before he searches the hearse and finds a mysterious artefact hidden within it.
            Arnold wants his artefact back and is seriously ticked off about the loss of the weaponry;  he is also a sadist and murderer who, if he ever got his homicidal hands on any member of the Holland family would subject them to a long and torturous death.  In the hands of any other writer, Arnold would be an arch villain from a fruity Victorian melodrama, but Mr Burke invests him with a chilling liveliness that makes the hairs rise on the back of the neck, and dialogue so scintillating that it is a pleasure to read what Arnold is going to say next.
            And Arnold Beckman is not the only smiling monster in Mr Burke’s arsenal of Hackberry’s enemies:  Maggie Bassett, prostitute and sometime lover of Butch Cassidy, famed gunslinger of the Hole-in-the-Wall gang has a very big bone to pick with Marshal Holland.  On one occasion when Hackberry was Under the Influence, she swears they married – which may have happened, but Maggie was an inconstant wife and left him pretty quickly – until he wanted a divorce so that he could marry Ruby Dansen, the mother of his child.  (Are you still with me?  There’s no such thing as a simple plot here.)
            In short, Hackberry’s problems are legion.  Absolutely EVERYONE wants him dead, except the reader, and what a pleasure it is to see how Mr Burke manages to extricate Our Hero time and time again from nostril-deep ordure, each close call accompanied by unique humour provided by colourful minor characters, all of whom save Hackberry’s bacon more than once.
            And once again, Mr Burke writes achingly beautiful prose to describe the country he loves;  he evokes superbly a time long gone but his peerless imagery enables the reader to be there, amongst the poverty and beauty and cruelty of a lawless land.  This is the thinking man’s Western.  FIVE STARS
           
Feast Day of Fools, by James Lee Burke


So.  I have to ask myself the question:  what rock have I been hiding under all these years that I could remain uninterested in a superlative writer who has now completed thirty thrillers?  Because I thought he was probably the same as all the other formulaic writers, that’s why.  Well, shame on me.
James Lee Burke’s literary reputation is so secure that he hardly needs an endorsement from a Library blog in New Zealand, but that won’t stop me from singing his praises all the same.  I’m just vexed at myself for not reading his books sooner.  Fortunately, ‘Feast Day of Fools’ despite being the latest in a series of stories about Texas sheriff Hackberry Holland  (yep, that’s truly his name),  is easily read as a stand-alone novel, for Mr Burke’s skill is such that he can bring the first-time reader (me!) up to speed with action from previous books,  introducing it so seamlessly that I never felt mad as I usually do, for approaching the series from the wrong end.
Sheriff Holland is an old man now, nursing much sorrow and many regrets, but still functioning superbly as the guardian of the law in a small West Texas town close to the Mexican border.  He has a loyal staff consisting of  deputies Pam Tibbs, whose devotion is a thin disguise for the great love she feels for him; and  R.C. Givens, whose frail-looking physique belies his resourcefulness and intelligence -  and let us not forget switchboard operator Maydeen Stolz, whose vulgarity offends the Sheriff daily.
Crime in the area is usually connected with the Wetbacks, those hapless Mexicans who cross the Rio Grande, then pay ‘Coyotes’, unscrupulous guides, to help them find menial work in Texas.  They are illegal aliens, willing to do anything to make a living, for compared to their miserable lives in Mexico the United States is still the Promised Land.  However, when the remains of a tortured man are found by a local alcoholic and reported to the sheriff, a chain of events is started that leads not just to wets and coyotes, but to defence contractors and organised crime, an ex-C.I.A operative and the shadowy pursuers of them all, the F.B.I.
Oh, everyone gets a mention in Mr Burke’s complicated plot and there are baddies of truly Olympian proportions, but Hackberry’s true nemesis from previous encounters is Preacher Jack Collins, a messianic, scripture-quoting killer whose favourite weapon is a machine gun.  Preacher Jack is a one-stop-shop of high intelligence, hatred, malice and forward planning, and he and the sheriff have unfinished business to conduct:  every now and then Jack rings Hackberry to remind him, to keep him on the back foot – and these little exchanges are gems.  Mr Burke writes scintillating, witty dialogue, so good that despite the fact that some of the characters reach caricature proportions, they are continually redeemed by their folksy, down to earth humour and logic. 
Sadly, logic is jettisoned in the last chapter of this otherwise fine story:  after a gun battle that should have left no-one alive, Hackberry and his allies march off into the desert and imminent rescue, even though they are all leaking gallons of blood and shouldn’t be able to walk a single step.  That’s stretching the reader’s credulity to snapping point!
But let us not forget Mr Burke’s wonderful descriptions of the natural world around him:  he populates his stark and beautiful landscapes with roiling purple clouds, fiery sunsets and the vastness of desert spaces.  Until I read this book I didn’t know a butte from a banana or a mesa from my elbow but I’m happy to say that I NOW HAVE THE PICTURE, thanks to Mr. Burke’s marvellous imagery.  He has the singular ability to make the reader examine crime in all its guises, too -  not just the who-done-it variety, but the greater crimes that start wars, the terrible crimes that wars unleash, and the criminals who set it all in motion.  FIVE STARS

The Brotherhood of the Wheel, by R. S. Belcher


           Hot Damn!  Now, here’s something different:  Jimmie Aussapile is a trucker who drives a big rig wherever on the vast American highway system he is directed to take his cargo of freight;  he is good at his job, has a loving family and a great music system in his cab:  life is going great for Jimmie when this story opens, for his adored wife is about to give birth to their son – what more can a man desire?
            Naturally, the seasoned thriller reader knows there has to be a hitch, and that is the fact that Jimmie is a member of The Brethren, a powerful modern version of the Knights Templar, founded in the twelfth century to protect and defend travellers and merchants on the roads of the Holy Land.  The same rings true in the 21st century – Jimmy and his fellow Brethren (truckers, bikers, police, cab-drivers, state troopers et al) are sworn to uphold the same traditions a thousand years later.  The highways and byways are still as dangerous as ever for the innocent, in fact more so:  there has been an upsurge in children and teenagers reported missing, all last seen, then disappearing completely near main roads and highways.
            Events take a supernatural turn when Jimmie stops to pick up a young girl hitchhiking on the highway in the dead of night:  she says ‘she just wants to get home’, and even though her home is nowhere near his destination he knows he must take her there.  It is also very clear to him that she is already dead.  Her ghostly appearance is a request for him to investigate all the disappearances, and to stop and vanquish the evil creature behind these awful crimes.
            How can he refuse?  In florid and torrid prose, Mr Belcher sets the opening scenes in sometimes tedious detail (do we have to know what everyone is wearing right down to their shoelaces?), and his vast knowledge of country music is illustrated in the choice of music and artist in diners, restaurants and trucker’s cabs every few pages.  Okay.  I get the picture, BUT!  When all the preliminaries have finally been dispensed with, Mr Belcher has assembled a courageous and doughty band of Road Knights, beginning with Heck Sinclair, taken on as jimmie’s Squire, a biker and marine burn-out with a short fuse and powers of which he is only half-aware (and very afraid of!);  Lovina Marcou, a Louisiana State Police investigator on her last warning for investigating child disappearances in a less than procedural manner;  and Dr. Max Leher, called in as backup from another secret branch of the Knights Templar:  together they are a formidable and frightening team, the only ones capable of wiping out the gathering evil that threatens modern civilisation.
            And while the reader has a ‘yeah, right!’ moment at least once every chapter, Mr Belcher charms and cajoles us all into finishing this tall tale with his great dialogue (some of it laugh-out-loud funny), even better minor characters (Elvis makes an appearance, young and beautiful again and ready to access his Hellish contacts for Jimmie), and strong plotting obviously leading to a sequel – and I’ll be waiting:  ‘The Brotherhood of the Wheel’ and its members are heaps of scary fun!  FOUR STARS, C’mon?
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Sunday, 2 October 2016

GREAT READS FOR OCTOBER, 2016

The Sport of Kings, by C. E. Morgan

            Henry Forge, Southern gentleman, is master of all he surveys.  Through iron-clad determination and obsessive planning he has converted the family farm of his ancestors, those hard men and slave owners who had trekked across the mountains into Kentucky looking for a new life 200 years before, into a premiere Thoroughbred horse-breeding operation:  his aim is to produce a Superhorse, an animal with beauty, speed, stamina and a mighty heart to win all the major horse races in the country, just as the peerless Secretariat had done so effortlessly and convincingly years before – it can be done again, and he is just the man to do it.
            Henry’s fixation on horses began at a young age when he saw horses broken in on the neighbouring farm;  unfortunately his burgeoning interest is not encouraged by his autocratic father, who believes that his only son should accept unquestionably that the Forges have always made their reputation and  considerable fortune growing corn;  there will be no deviation from this tradition – until Henry, whose hatred of his father is absolute, discovers a family secret so terrible that he cannot resist flinging his new knowledge into his unsuspecting father’s face:  Henry’s beautiful mother is having a torrid affair with a family servant.  A nigger.
            So begins Ms Morgan’s huge, epic novel about breeding – of horses and men;  a story that explores ruthlessly the cruel pathways of slavery and racism, as innate and inbred in the old Kentucky families as the bloodline of a favourite dam or sire.
Henry’s obsession with producing the perfect animal doesn’t stop with horses;  it extends to his own progeny, Henrietta, whose high-society mother soon becomes dissatisfied with her quiet life on a horse farm and lights out for pastures new, leaving Henrietta to grow up gaining a home-schooled classical education thanks to dear old dad, but lacking the warmth and normalcy of a loving feminine influence.  The solitary child grows into a singular, brilliant woman, one who takes her pleasures when and where she wants, always conscious of her privileged position and her status as her father’s ‘right-hand man’, but always, always lonely.
Then the miracle occurs:  one of Henry’s mares gives birth to a foal that has all the early indications of a champion, and as she grows, the little filly called Hellsmouth fulfils all her early promise.  She is the longed-for wonder horse, and a new groom is hired by Henrietta to care for her exclusively.  Allmon Shaughnessy is gifted with horses;  he has the touch – unfortunately, he also has a prison record, and he is black.  But Henrietta is intrigued by him and hires him while her father is elsewhere, thus setting in train events that culminate in undreamed-of success for Hellsmouth, and tragedy of Shakespearian proportions for everyone else.
Ms Morgan’s talents as a writer are frightening.  She can beguile the reader with wondrous imagery one minute, then plunge us all quailing into utter horror the next as she hurls words like javelins to describe the cruelty casually dispensed to animals and people.    There are no happy endings here;  Henrietta does not walk off into a rosy sunset with a perfectly-bred Beau approved by Henry, but I have to say it:  WHAT A RIDE!!  And what a writer, despite the eyewateringly small print (my eyes will never recover) and tragedy on every page.  SIX STARS!!

Nutshell, by Ian McEwan


           ‘So here I am, upside down in a woman.’  This is Ian McEwan’s unforgettable introduction to his masterly modern interpretation of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, specifically the murder of the King of Denmark by his brother Claudius and wife Gertrude.
            Hamlet is still in his mother Trudy’s womb, and space is getting more limited by the day;  however, he is quite comfortable for the moment and takes a keen interest in the sounds around him, especially the radio interviews, lectures and podcasts he listens to (Trudy believes in keeping up with the play, globally speaking);  his only complaint about unborn life so far is that his soon-to-be father, publisher John Cairncross, has been evicted from the crumbling family home because mum is having a very carnal and energetic affair with John’s brother Claude.  The frequent battering ram assaults by Claude on various parts of his tender anatomy infuriate our little narrator;  he hopes that his silly mother will soon see the huge differences between the brothers before he sees the light – he is astonished that his kind, intellectually superior father has been supplanted by property-developer Claude, whose claims to sophistication and intelligence are negligible – but he does know how to choose a wine!
            And a lot of wine is consumed, lulling the unborn to sleep most of the time, until he wakes up and hears a conversation which horrifies him:  Trudy and Claude have decided to remove John permanently from their lives by Murder Most Foul.  Because the decaying, filthy house in which Trudy lives (John and Claude’s childhood home) is in a very fashionable part of London, Claude knows that the site is worth millions, and because John is showing a marked and shameful reluctance to end his marriage (For Heaven’s sake, stop grovelling – where’s your self-respect!) there is only one solution:  he’ll have to go.  Claude intends to win Fair Lady and the loot.
            Baby is agog at their duplicity, especially when it becomes painfully clear that he will not figure in their futures, but will be ‘put somewhere’.  To add insult to injury his own father appears to have no interest in his imminent birth either, intent as he is at abasing himself at the sandaled feet of his faithless wife.  What can he do?  What awful fate awaits him?
            Mr McEwan’s book extends to just under two hundred pages, culminating with the birth of our fretting little narrator.  The author likes the idea of a novel that one can read in one or two sittings, ‘an intense experience’ – always assuming that it will entertain the reader sufficiently enough to do just that.  I have to admit that I have found some of his works to be of a much lesser quality than this one;  however, he has certainly achieved his objective with ‘Nutshell’.  His scintillating prose illustrates treachery, betrayal and murder in grand Shakespearian style and baby Hamlet’s family has never seemed more real.  FIVE STARS