Friday, 27 June 2008


AUTHOR: Richard Yates


DATE READ: June 2008

NOTES: How come I only just heard about this fantastic book? Set in 1950s suburban Connecticut, it tells the story of the less than idyllic relationship of Frank and April Wheeler. Although an onlooker may see them as an ideal couple in an ideal situation they both have layers and layers of dissatisfaction which come to the surface as their marriage crumbles.

The book was written in 1961 and seems to encapsulate all that we have come to associate with that time. April appears willing to give up any pretence of a career to look after house and children while Frank goes each day to his “boring” office job (but he manages to find time for an affair with a secretary). Everyone drinks and smokes to excess – even in pregnancy. Frank’s boss declares electronic computers to be the coming thing…..

Although both Frank and his neighbour Shep sometimes reflect on their time in the army during the war very little of the wider outside world creeps into the empty surburban world of Frank and April and their small circle of acquaintances. April comes up with a plan to move the family to France believing this will give Frank a fresh impetus to “find himself” but from the start you wonder if this will never happen.

Revolutionary Road is powerfully written and draws you into the lives of the Wheelers and their neighbours the Campbells and the Givings. It has some darkly comic moments and many flashes of brilliance. Yes, an American classic.

Did the creators of Mad Men (US TV series) get some of their inspiration from this book?
-constant drinking and smoking
-office liaisons
-coercing unhappy wife into seeing a psychiatrist
-coping with unwanted pregnancy

Saturday, 21 June 2008


AUTHOR: Robert Harris


DATE READ: June 2008

NOTES: A nameless ghost writer is brought in to finish the memoirs of ex- prime minister Adam Lang. His previous collaborator has been found dead (either an accident or suicide) but the terms the ghost writer is offered for the work are just too good to turn down. Needless to say things fail to go smoothly and our narrator is soon engulfed in a search for the truth about Lang’s past. There are obvious parallels with New Labour and the War on Terror and these are all fun to spot and they don’t get in the way of a cracking story. The story is told at a fast pace and is a genuine page turner.

The tone of the book is much more “chirpy” and modern than his previous (historical) novels and this suits the plot. He makes some insightful comments about today’s society and our links with the United States.

All great fun but with some serious undertones.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008


AUTHOR: Matt Rees


DATE READ: June 2008

NOTES: A very graphic crime story set in the West Bank with brilliant descriptions of the everyday lives of the people living there. The hero is set in the mould of many other modern detectives and is portrayed as flawed and only a reluctant hero. The story moves fast and most of the characters are well drawn and believable. However there is (to me) one serious flaw. The bad guys are just too implausibly wicked with no redeeming features whatsoever. And in the final confrontation the murderer simply admits his crimes and how he did them. Surely this never happens in real life – only in crime fiction!

Sunday, 15 June 2008


AUTHOR: Isaac Asimov


DATE READ: June 2008

NOTES: Read this rather reluctantly as it was a Reading Group choice and not a book I would normally have attempted. It is a collection of short stories first published in US magazines in the 1940s about the development of robotics in the world in the middle of the 21st century. They are in chronological order and have several characters occurring throughout – in particular Susan Galvin, a robopsychologist who recalls all the stories. She emerges as a strong and well drawn character. Most of the others are a bit one dimensional and the dialogue has not lasted well.
However some of the stories are quite riveting and I can well understand their appeal. Asimov explores ideas about the roles of robots in relation to humans. If robots are programmed not the make mistakes and always to put the interests of humans first then should we allow them to make all our decisions for us? Is this better than allowing humans to fail?
Asimov developed the Three Laws of Robotics and cleverly refers to them in all the stories.
-A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
-A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
-A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Monday, 9 June 2008


AUTHOR: Ian McEwan


DATE READ: June 2008

NOTES: This novella is a beautifully constructed piece of writing. You are quickly drawn into the world of Florence and Edward as they approach their wedding night with trepidation. They obviously love each other but do not have the language to explain their fears and phobias. Florence is revolted by the whole idea of sex but tells herself she is prepared to go through with it because she loves Edward and it is what is expected of her. Neither of them realises that their love could have held their marriage together……

Although only 160 pages the book contains an amazing amount of detail about the backgrounds and histories of both Edward and Florence as well as a projection into the future following that fateful night.

I did have some problems with the general attitude to sex. Even though the “Swinging Sixties” were still waiting to happen, Florence’s pre-marital behaviour would have been considered somewhat extreme. (Compare with Frederica’s easy sexual alliances in A S Byatt’s Still Life)

However it is a delightful read which had me turning the pages rapidly as I was desperate to know how it would all turn out…….

Friday, 6 June 2008


AUTHOR: Jimmy Carter


DATE READ: June 2008

NOTES: An honest and decent book from an honest and decent man. Peace Not Apartheid charts the conflict from the establishment of the state of Israel up to the present time. The writing is plain and simple and the book is all the better for this. As Carter describes his own involvement in the peace process and his first hand observations of life in Israel and Palestine you can sense his growing frustration and resentment with Israel, the United States and (to a lesser extent) the PLO.

He describes the chain of events of violence, retaliations and petty officialdom – such as the deliberately obstructive attitude of Israeli officials towards Arabs trying to vote, the carving up of Arab land, the erection of the “security” wall which separates families etc.
The book is not written as a polemic – but it is hard to read without becoming angry!

It finishes with the words: “It will be a tragedy – for the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the world – if peace is rejected and a system of oppression, apartheid, and sustained violence is permitted to prevail.”

Tuesday, 3 June 2008




DATE READ: May 2008

NOTES: The second in Byatt’s Frederica Quartet continues the story of the clever but irritating Frederica (though she has become much more sympathetic in this book). It is mostly set in the late 1950s with Frederica at Cambridge where she is working hard and has great ambition while at the same time sleeping with a range of men. She still loves Alexander but as he slips from the scene she transfers her affection to Raphael – a somewhat acetic don.
Stephanie has opted for a life of domesticity as Daniel’s wife and in the course of the book gives birth to two children while at the same time the household includes Daniel’s horrific mother and the still troubled Marcus. She still longs for time to read her beloved Wordsworth but this more often than not proves impossible. The hospital birth scenes are brilliant and really evoke the mores of the time.
Towards the end of the book the focus seems to switch north to Yorkshire again. A new university opens to which Marcus and his friend Jacqueline go as students and some of the tutors from Cambridge move.
Like The Virgin in the Garden this is a tough read, infused as it is with ideas on painting, the nature of language and philosophical ideas. But the story and characters are gripping and there are some really shocking episodes at the end – I look forward the next two in the series.
Although there were some definite endings in Still Life there were plenty of intriguing threads still to be followed up. Will Frederica marry Nigel? How will Daniel cope with his grief? Will Gideon’s transgressions ever be made public? Will Thomas and Elinor’s marriage survive? Will Bill’s anger ever subside?