Ordnance

Ordnance
Stokes Mortar - one of the simplest inventions

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

On Green Dolphin Street - Sebastian Faulks

I had avoided this book, having loved both Birdsong and Charlotte Gray, but then Engleby won my wholehearted respect. I took both On Green Dolphin Street and Ian McEwan's Enduring Love on holiday and started both. I am going to commit heresy. I found McEwan so well researched it was contrived, but Faulks, surely equally well researched, came to me natural from the page. It had more flavour, smell and touch.

Churchill's Hours by Michael Dobbs

The focus of this final part of the trilogy is on the USA before Pearl Harbour. Churchill recognised that the only way Hitler could be defeated was by engaging the power of the United States.
All the time British servicemen were fighting, but it seems without a strategy for victory and with the single objective of hanging on until the USA saw the inevitability of the war engulfing them.
Dobbs tells well the pain and cost in human terms of this hanging on. He draws us toward Churchill so that we can see the war from his perspective. This is not the same as Churchill himself might have written, we don't look through his eyes; our eyes are placed next to his.
How I wish Dobbs would write more.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Never Surrender Michael Dobbs

Those of us born after the end of WWII have no idea just how close we were to losing, especially in the early weeks and months. Michael Dobbs captures this perfectly interweaving the capricious US Ambassador, the too clever politicians and the ordinary men who just got on with the job with the astonishing mix that was Winston Churchill. I found it compelling reading for the subject matter but also for the pace and depth of character which Dobbs gives to his readers.
There is a scene of the greatest possible depth on the beach at Dunkirk where the father of one of the main characters has gone over with one of the little boats; he is a priest who has lost his way. He finds it in the need for spiritual support that shouts out from the thousands of stranded soldiers. It is Sunday and he begins to say prayers and lead hymns at the behest of those around him. 'Can we take Communion' one of them asked. Henry Chichester at first objected that he had no bread or wine, but then hunted round for what there was: cognac and chocolate. He rediscovered his faith by seeing the faith others placed in him.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Winston's War by Michael Dobbs

I came to this book about the run up to the first major engagement in WWII with two TV programmes echoing in my mind: The Wilderness Years by Ferdinand Fairfax and The Gathering Storm by Hugh Whitemore. These excellent films take as read that Churchill is the hero. Michael Dobbs is more circumspect. In his epilogue he offers his own view on the vital role played by Churchill, but his fiction allows the reader to ask the questions that Chamberlain must have asked over and over. Was Churchill a war monger; was there even at the final hour a peaceful alternative? Dobbs takes his reader through the politics. A country with a frail economy and growing unemployment needed peace and trade; it got war. Dobbs allows five or so plots to run side by side, and this allows the reader to see the action from a number of different points of view. The stories are fully written; there is a good deal of content in this book. What is so clever is that, whilst we know how it ends, we cannot see how that end will be reached until very near the end.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Tulip Fever - Deborah Moggach

At the heart of this book is painting, portraiture. The writing seems to emanate from this heart with description that is often breathtaking and always illuminating.
The present tense delivery moves from one point of view to another, as each tiny section of the picture is composed and executed.
The plot is neat; at times it is exasperating, but soothed always by the prose which draws the reader on.

Monday, 3 May 2010

The Little Stranger

I listened to Sarah Waters talk about this her latest book at the London Book Fair in 2009. I had enjoyed The Night Watch and looked forward to her exploration of yet more recent history; The Night Watch is set in WWII and The Little Stranger during the post war Labour Government.
The Little Stranger is written in the first person from the point of view of a middle aged bachelor GP. Its first sentence tells you that it is going to be about a country house, Hundreds Hall; its first paragraph adds the setting of the turbulence of the class system in the aftermath of war.
It has the remembered pace of my childhood: cars that start only with care, doctors with bags, council houses, sensible shoes and heavy clothing. Waters honours the different vocabulary of only sixty or so years ago.
It is a story in which everything changes. Hundreds Hall starts, albeit in memory, as breathtakingly grand and finishes in complete decay. Mrs Ayres begins young and beautiful and ends taking her own life. A similar decay affects Caroline and Roderick, the heirs to the house. What is the cause of the decay? Mr Attlee and the Labour Government, or something sinister? Waters said it was a ghost story. What then is so clever is that whilst this offers the simplest explanation of the strange occurrences, all the time the reader finds herself aligned with the less fanciful explanations offered by the narrator and others. So much so that there remains a hint that the narrator is in some way responsible. The final paragraph possibly supports this.
It is a book written with the weight and texture of a good tweed coat. We spend time with people and places, yet the plot is always near to draw us on.
I look forward to her next one.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Ordinary Thunderstorms

I met William Boyd at the London bookfair and had been looking forward to reading this book in spite of some reviews which cast a little doubt over its quality. I think that what he achieves in this book is significant. There is the tension that you would expect from what is I suppose a thriller. It comes very early on and I worried a little that it might lose strength. However, the energy is maintained by the introduction of deep characters and the slow emergence of the 'real' plot. There is revealing description of low life London. It is a book that takes you out of a safe place into one outside normal society.