Wednesday, 27 February 2008

AUTHOR: Kate Grenville

DATE READ: February 2008

NOTES: A poverty stricken waterman is condemned to hang in early 19th century London but with the help of his wife has his sentence changed to transportation. Some excellent descriptive writings of London scenes and of life in New South Wales. Through hard work and luck Will takes on 100 acres of land on the edge of a river. But there are others lurking and his land which is now legally his – aboriginals. They seem to come and go, taking crops he has grown and showing no ‘respect’ for the new owners. The author does well to view this clash from a 19th century viewpoint. It is too easy to see it from a liberal 21st century standpoint. Will’s family shows no concept of what the land means to “the blacks” – there is plenty more land that they can go to, so why should they hang around here?

However one of their sons, Dick, is instinctively attracted to the blacks and begins to learn about their ways until forbidden by Will. (I feel more could have been made of this but perhaps Grenville didn’t want to go off at too many tangents)

The optimism of the Thornhill’s is tinged with sadness. If Will’s family is to remain on “their” land then a solution to the “molestations and depredations” must be found. We know that a tragedy awaits the native people but when it comes it is shocking and horrific.

On the surface this is a good family saga. But it is actually much more than that and raised (in a subtle way) lots of issues about power, class and colonisation. How easily someone who has been a victim can become the bully! Just like the old Yeats’ poem about the beggar on horseback lashing the beggar on foot.

A fascinating story about the early times in New South Wales.


AUTHOR: John Le Carré


DATE READ: January 2008

NOTES: Bruno Salvador, with an Irish Missionary father and Congolese mother, works as a freelance interpreter. As well as English, French and Swahili he also speaks a range of less common African languages.

As a loyal British citizen he is proud to be called on by unnamed government departments to assist in sensitive negotiations. But when he is asked to leave at short notice to attend a conference of unnamed people for unknown purposes on an anonymous northern island things go awry for him. As an interpreter he is expected to hold everything in strict confidence but as the conference progresses he sees and hears things that can only be detrimental to peace and progress.

It is very well done how Le Carré portrays Salvo as initially very enthusiastic and naïvely
supportive of what is being planned and how he gradually has his innocence ripped away from him.

The Mission Song is well plotted (complex but believable) and whips along at a great pace. An exciting read but without any crazy chases or gun fights. Another great addition to Le Carré’s post-Cold War output.

Can businessmen, Civil Servants and politicians be so corrupt and self-serving? Yes, probably.


AUTHOR: Joshua Ferris


DATE READ: January 2008

NOTES: A story of office life set in an ad agency in Chicago. It is told in the first person plural – so the “we” becomes an amorphous mass, shifting and changing with no clear narrator. This is a very clever device. It could have been clumsy but it works amazingly well. The book is very funny on all the tiny (and less tiny) irritations of working with others – the pettiness, jealousy, lies, thwarted ambition etc. He is particularly good on the “rumour mill” of working life. Tales spread (so they must be true because everyone has heard them) but no-one can ever track down how a rumour started in the first place.

The writing is exuberant and the story multi-faceted – funny, painful, tragic and absurd.

This is a fine piece of work – a brilliant debut novel which is hard to categorise. Will be interesting to watch out for his future work.


AUTHOR: Michael Connolly


DATE READ: January 2008 (audiobook)

NOTES: Harry Bosch PA, ex-LAPD cop is hired by the widow of and ex-colleague to find out why her husband died. His tablets had been tampered with, forcing his heart to stop.

Soon they are on the trail of a serial killer that was believed to be dead. Can Harry help to track him down before any more are killed? (Of course, he can!)

All pretty formulaic but done with great verve. The final chase scene is exciting and scary and there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. Harry Bosch is a great creation. He is certainly a man to have on your side in time of trouble – brave, resourceful and loyal. I wonder where I can get hold of his phone number……