War on the Wheels

War on the Wheels
The story of the people

Monday, 29 December 2008

The Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding

This is teen fiction set in the late 18th century. It begins with an engaging heroine, Cat, an orphan who is 'adopted' by a theatre company. I can see parallels with Lyra in her Oxford College. Within the first 60 pages Cat has been involved in s street fight as a result of protecting a black child actor. She earns a beating for her efforts. The book is evidence of the popularity of Julia Golding.
The language is slightly archaic as is often found in historical fiction and I wonder to what extent this helps.
There are humorous characters. I watched Star Wars for the first time last evening. I was struck by the importance of the droid side kicks in adding humour and providing the child viewer with a friend.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Engleby - the end

It has taken a long time to get there, with the interruptions of daily life, but it has been so worthwhile. I seem to recall someone saying that they don't always finish a book. In this case (using the immortal words from Pretty Women) BIG MISTAKE.
I think I mentioned in an earlier blog the way that Faulks seems to be writing all our stories (that is those of us of a certain age). At the end of Engleby he dreams or fantasises perhaps that he is Jen and that the story could so easily have run differently. Not infrequently Engleby makes comments about genetics and the overwhelming similarity we have to other species; the point being that the differences are so marginal. So Engleby could so easily have been different, not bullied, not unhappy, not driven to killing the girl he loved and so longed to be loved by.
It is the experience of everyman, life is steered by marginal differences but to the most huge consequence. The chance of being born in England or Ethiopia.
Having now read quite a few of his work I think I can see that it is only by writing that a good writer becomes better.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Engleby getting closer

This is clever writing. Jen was painted in such a good light that whoever killed her demands capital punishment at the very least. Yet, we have spent time with Engleby, we have suffered with him, found a little bit of happiness with him. I find myself reading more and more slowly. I don't want to see what now appears inevitable, that he killed her. One particular way Faulkes achieves this is through the two time frames. It is masterly.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Engleby and me

Half way and two things occur to me. He's writing a blog. Actually he is writing a blog of our generation. When I posted my first note there was something hovering in the mind which I wasn't quite ready to write. It is about war and the generation to which the author and I belong. We are certainly tinged with guilt. As Engleby puts it, his grandfather fought in the Great War and his father in the second; all we have to combat is feminism (page 198 if you don't believe me). His blog is wide ranging as he takes us through the events and personalities of our shared lives.
The second point to occur is that the character seems to be running along OK on increasingly interesting work supported less and less by pills and booze. The flip side of this is that before with less interest and more booze there must have been an imbalance. So the hints start about Jen. I had wondered at the time and no doubt will be kept wondering. The trouble is that when a possibility such as this emerged in a novel, the instinct is the read as quickly as possible to find out. It will be interesting to see what he does to grab attention to other things.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Engleby

Sebastian Faulkes takes his reader through territory which will be familiar to men and women or a certain age. Some of the territory was only previously seen, or rather imagined, behind closed door: the excesses of bullying at a public school, recreational drug habits. Other territory is more directly familiar, working life in London in the eighties. The first person narration is so wonderfully direct. Often it is a conversation with the reader. Time ebbs and flows but the navigation is well signposted. There are cameos from elsewhere: bits from the worlds of Birdsong and Charlotte Grey.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Sophie's unusual ideas

I have finished Camel Bites and really liked it, which worries me. I am a tad older than a teenager and surely seriously out of touch; I would be fascinated to see how actual teenagers react (I will have a look at some reviews). Three things interested me in particular. There is a strong moral element; educational information is provided both by the lines in French, but also by the description of Tangier; finally prayer is given what seem to be genuine space as Lily enters a church and tells of her problems. If these things are acceptable to a 21st century audience then tell me where I begin.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Sophie and Lily

I have come to the camel bite and the trip to the bazaar and I admit surprise. I am enjoying this book aimed at teenage girls. The protagonist has a convincing character; her voice is authentic and we spend a lot of time with her. The other characters are well shaped and the conflict is gentle but never far away. It is part overt but part internal and this is a strength.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Sophie Parkin - Bazaar Nights and Camel Bites

Sophie is coming as guest speaker in a week's time and I am writing up her talk. I had looked at her website and at extracts from her novels but now I have her latest teen novel in my hands. She writes in the first person and I would say finds the voice of a teenage girl - the daughter in My Family. The opening seems to hang loose from the central action, but Parkin too knows her Aristotle as the visit from the school teacher to the bizarre family Christmas is given meaning as she quotes from the book her gave her on Morocco. The inciting incident is the coming of the French boy whom both friends fancy. Thus far most of the conflict about this is internal to Lily the protagonist.

How Capote follows Aristotle

Capote takes his reader through the trial and into the time when execution is awaited. In the TV court room drama the focus is on the verdict, with sub plots, often of loose connection, slotted in to keep attention. Capote sticks closely to Aristotle’s rule that the focus must always be on the Action/idea. We are told about the characters, but all the time the focus is utterly clear. It is a density of writing that perhaps Salman Rushdie used in Midnight Children. It offers the reader a much deeper but also more rounded experience. It knocks on the head the desire on the part of the writer to engage in flights of fancy as the plot wonders hither and thither. Be utterly clear what the point is and stick to it.
A great book

Friday, 7 November 2008

The texture of Capote's writing is compelling

I accept it is embarrassing how long I am spending reading this book. My defence is that there is plenty going on at the same time. The advantage is that there is an opportunity to savour after each short burst of reading.
I have just come through the part where Capote gives the texts of an exchange of letters between Perry and his sister plus a critique of the latter's writing offered by Perry's evangelical friend. These documents offer deep insights into Perry's character such that the reader is slowly nudged toward believing that Perry could have murdered. (I am not there yet).
The detective is not shown drink coffee and upturning clues, rather we are shown a view of the effect the investigation is having on his health and his marriage. This is deeply human stuff.
The problem with this is how on earth is the vital clue going to be uncovered. The answer comes in chapter 3 where the only person who can make the connection begins to do so and in a convincing way.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Cold Blood

The slow progress is all down to my granddaughter - so no apologies!
The author is showing us two sets of characters: those grouped round the family decimated by the crime, and the criminals. He then paints both groups with the same sympathetic pallet. As readers the temptation is to cry out condemn, but he won't. He seems to offer very little in the way of clues to allow us to make the connection. Equally he doesn't, as yet, let us get close only to be disappointed. Yet I read on.
The style of writing as revealed by the page layout is intriguing. It is what I have previously referred to a reportage but interspersed with remembered speech and in some cases dialogue. This latter has the effect of making it feel that we are being shown rather than told.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

In Cold Blood - cont

I will write my impressions of this novel as I work my way through it. Having had the aloof reportage fro the prologue, the description becomes more vivid as the moment of the murder approaches. An example is the pain in Perry's knees (p54) Perhaps I begin to see some force within Perry which results in the hideous crime? But the description generally becomes sharper. At around about page 60 a first person narrator becomes prominent. The eye witness accounts add to the gradual build up

Monday, 27 October 2008

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

This is a provisional post having read the first forty pages, that is up to the inciting incident. It is reportage. I had the opportunity to compare it to Mary Wesley's Camomile Lawn (bear with me there is a point here!). I picked up this book at 3am to get me back to sleep. It was a mistake since the characters in the TV series flooded through my mind. The book though was disappointingly wooden. The first pages are close packed back story quite undisguised as dialogue or any such thing. Capote also has to communicate a load of background and also uses some chunky paragraphs but in his case punctuated by some showing in dialogue and action. I am stuck how much I dislike being told something in a book.
I will now read on and report back in a day or two.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Heart of Darkness

I have been longing to read this book ever since it took centre stage in the myth module. For me since then it became a myth. Marlow and Kurtz took on flesh both staring intently at the Golden Bough. Now I have read it. I was back in the Scramble for Africa, in the Brussels Museum, in the yet to be written story of my father who went to East Africa in his late teens before WW1. Marlow on the ship in the Thames was surreal. The archetypal story teller talking to Everyman. He then journeys into Africa and into himself. Had I the time I could read endless commentaries, as it is for now I will make do with my own take. Pilgrims, forests, staves are words not associated with Africa. Cannibals are and how interesting to read unemotional justification. I was looking forward to long conversations with Kurtz but they never come. Everything comes to Marlow as myth and in his own imagination.
I will read it again one day.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Marsden, Philip The Main Cages

This book is set in Cornwall in the 1930s. It has a protagonist, Jack, who comes to the sea as an adult and grows in his knowledge of it as the book progresses. The antagonist is the sea and this is painted richly from first hand knowledge by the author but supplemented by extensive research. There is an artistic sub plot with echoes for me from DH Lawrence who was in Cornwall at about the same time. The development of tourism brings out an interest of mine in seeing who did well in the interwar years. The inciting incident is the rushed repair of a ship for trips for hotel guests; the antagonist become the demon money personified by Bryant the industrialist from Birmingham. The crisis is when the fuel cap is left off allowing water into the engine. The wreck which follows is told in what I would term reportage. The surprise comes that the disaster is not of this ship which is saved but rather the life boat which does the saving. The wreck scenes are pages turners, so much so that there was a temptation to skip some of the sub plot passages which intervened.