Monday, 29 October 2007


AUTHOR: Tim Moore


DATE READ: October 2007

NOTES: Tim Moore set off from Valcarlos to Santiago accompanied by a donkey called Shinto. A very lighthearted look at the Pilgrims’ Way of Saint James – his battles with Shinto, the strange places he has to sleep in, the assorted villages and towns he trundles through and the wonderful mix of people he meets along the way. He treats the pilgrims he meets with warmth and humour even though he obviously finds many of them to be frankly batty. The travelogue is interspersed with historical facts – but even these are given a cynical 21st century treatment.

I liked the descriptions of the places he walked through – many just as I remembered them.

All great fun, but not to be taken too seriously.

Friday, 26 October 2007


AUTHOR: Robert Harris


DATE READ: October 2007

NOTES: Another great read from Robert Harris. Imperium is narrated by Tiro, secretary and slave who relates the rise to power and fame of his master Cicero. It is really two books in one: the first part deals with Cicero’s early political life and in particular the lengthy and dangerous court battle against Gaius Verres whose corruption as governor of Sicily is challenged.

The second part deals with Cicero’s complex path to become a consul. The machinations of the Roman republic make a gripping tale. And although we know in advance that Cicero succeeds in his rise to power this comes at a cost to his principles. Cicero himself is brilliant portrayed and really came to life in this book.

There are obvious analogies to the modern world: the war on terror, political spin, the assumption of moral superiority by the imperial state, but Harris does this in a subtle way without labouring the issues.

Having only recently finished reading Tom Holland’s Rubicon this book made an ideal follow-up by fleshing out many of the characters of the time: Crassus, Pompey, Metellus, Cato and Julius Caesar. (Julius Caesar intriguingly only plays a very minor role – is Robert Harris planning a sequel that deals with the fall of the Republic?)

Thursday, 25 October 2007


AUTHOR: Jane Harris


DATE READ: October 2007

NOTES: The Observations is narrated by Bessy, an illegitimate ex-child prostitute who becomes (almost by accident) a maid to the beautiful but slightly unhinged Arabella Reid. The book recounts their life together and their changing relationship. Bessy is cynical, outrageous, funny and totally lacking in respect for her “betters”. Her tough narrative voice carries the book along effortlessly. There are some really sinister moments and the plot keeps you guessing until the end.

There is a wealth of weird and wonderful supporting characters and some good sub-plots (such as the erection and unveiling of the new town drinking water fountain). At one point Bessy sends a manuscript off to publishers but only receives in response a range of negative responses such as ‘sorry, not quite what we are looking for’. I can only assume that this is taken from Jane Harris’s earlier attempts at publication! Thank goodness someone had the good sense and foresight to publish The Observations.