Monthly Archives: July 2012

If You’re Reading This I am Already Dead – Andrew Nicoll

I’ve read The Good Mayor (which I loved) and The Life and Death of Caterina (which I liked, but not as much), so when I saw this one I just had to read it.

Here’s the blurb …

 ‘I want people to know how Otto Witte, acrobat of Hamburg, became the crowned king of Albania.’ Otto Witte is an old man. The Allies are raining bombs on his city and, having narrowly escaped death, he has come home to his little caravan to drink what remains of his coffee (dust) and wait for the inevitable. Convinced that he will not see the sunrise, he decides to write the story of his life for the poor soul who finds what’s left of him come the morning. And it’s quite a story. Years earlier, when he was in either Buda or Pest, working at the circus, a dear friend brought him the newspaper. Inside was an article about how Albania was looking for a particular Turkish prince, because the country was in need of a new king. This Turkish prince is the image of Otto…A plan is formed; adventure, disaster, love and sheer, unabashed hope await. If You’re Reading This, I’m Already Dead is a joy to read; accomplished and full of the warmth, honesty and lightness of touch for which Andrew Nicoll is known and loved.

 This was a swashbuckling read full of adventure, derring-do and a camel. It was a fun, light-hearted read that was also well written. I could imagine it being made into a movie along the lines of The Princess Bride. However, there are hidden depths that could keep a book club going for a while. Finally a novel that is fun to read and has serious themes.

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The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

I read this novel in school – I am sure that is the same for a multitude of people – and I enjoyed it and thought it was very decadent and sophisticated. Reading it now I realise just how much I missed the first time round.

Here is the book description …

 The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.

The Great Gatsby is one of the great classics of twentieth-century literature.

I’m not going to write too much about this novel because you can find much better reviews elsewhere. What I noticed this time was how sad this novel is – none of the characters have happy lives; Gatsby is creating himself in the image he thinks Daisy wants, Daisy is married to a philanderer, Tom is bored, Myrtle is also bored and looking for adventure, etc. The other thing I noticed was how beautifully written it was – not a wasted word. I think this is definitely worth a re-read before the film is released.

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The Impossible Dead – Ian Rankin

I like a good crime novel – Agatha Christie, Kellerman (Jonathan not Faye – although that’s not a criticism I just haven’t read any of Faye’s). I really enjoyed Rankin’s Rebus series – I haven’t read them all and certainly not in order, but those I have read I liked.

This novel has a new hero Malcolm Fox. Here is the blurb …

 The Complaints: that’s the name given to the Internal Affairs department who seek out dirty and compromised cops, the ones who’ve made deals with the devil. And sometimes The Complaints must travel.

A major inquiry into a neighboring police force sees Malcolm Fox and his colleagues cast adrift, unsure of territory, protocol, or who they can trust. An entire station-house looks to have been compromised, but as Fox digs deeper he finds the trail leads him back in time to the suicide of a prominent politician and activist. There are secrets buried in the past, and reputations on the line.

In his newest pulse-pounding thriller, Ian Rankin holds up a mirror to an age of fear and paranoia, and shows us something of our own lives reflected there.

There are lots of twists and turns and hidden secrets from the past to keep the most ardent conspiracy theorist happy.  Fox is a different hero to Rebus, but still hard working (not as hard drinking) and with past family and relationship issues. It’s fast passed and an easy read – definitely worth reading.

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Phineas Finn – Anthony Trollope

Reading this novel is a bit like running a marathon – each little bit seems easy it’s all of them together that is over whelming.

It was an easy read, but very long.

Here is the synopsis from Wikipedia …

 Finn is the only son of a successful Irish doctor, Dr Malachi Finn of Killaloe, County Clare, who sends him to London to become a lawyer. He proves to be a lackadaisical student, but being pleasant company and strikingly handsome to boot, he makes many influential friends. One of them, a fellow Irishman and a politician, Barrington Erle, suggests that he stand for Parliament in the coming election.

At first, the idea seems absurd. Finn is supported solely by a modest allowance from his father, but a stroke of luck clears his path. One of his father’s patients is Lord Tulla, a nobleman who controls a little borough that can be contested cheaply. Lord Tulla has had a falling out with his brother, the long-time officeholder. As a result, while the staunchly Tory lord will not support the Whig Finn, neither will he hamper him. Convincing his sceptical father to provide the funds needed, Finn wins his seat by a small margin.

The closest of his London friends is his mentor, Lady Laura Standish, the daughter of the prominent Whig politician Lord Brentford. As their relationship develops, Finn considers asking for her hand in marriage, despite the great social and financial gulf between them. Lady Laura senses this, but despite her partiality for the man, monetary considerations and her own political ambitions convince her to marry the dour, extremely wealthy Robert Kennedy instead.

At first devastated, Finn soon recovers and becomes enamoured of a lovely heiress, Violet Effingham. This proves to be awkward, as both Lady Laura and Lord Brentford vehemently want her to marry (and hopefully tame) Lord Brentford’s estranged son, the savage Lord Chiltern. In addition, Lady Laura encourages Finn to become acquainted with her brother. Finn and Chiltern become fast friends, which makes the situation even more uncomfortable. When Chiltern finds out that Finn is also courting Violet, he becomes infuriated and unreasonably demands that Finn withdraw. When he refuses, Chiltern insists on a duel. This is held in secret at Blankenberg, resulting in Finn being slightly wounded. Eventually, Violet has to choose between her two main suitors; she somewhat fearfully decides in favour of her childhood sweetheart, Chiltern.

Meanwhile, Finn’s parliamentary career gets off to a rocky start. Overawed by his august surroundings, he delivers a somewhat incoherent maiden speech. Eventually, however, he becomes accustomed to his situation and grows adept at parliamentary proceedings. All is not smooth sailing however. When new elections are called, Finn is in a dilemma. Lord Tulla has become reconciled with his brother and Finn has no chance of re-election. At this point, fortune favours him once again.

Late one night, Finn and Mr. Kennedy, now the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, depart Parliament at the same time. When they go their separate ways, Finn notices two men who follow his colleague. Suspicious, he takes a shortcut and arrives in time to foil an attempt to garrotte and rob Kennedy. In gratitude for saving the life of his son-in-law, Lord Brentford offers him the seat for the pocket borough of Loughton. With the nobleman’s support, the election is a forgone conclusion.

Finn’s heroic feat exacerbates the growing rift between Lady Laura and her husband. Their temperaments clash; Mr. Kennedy disapproves of his wife’s interest in politics. Moreover, to her intense dismay, Lady Laura finds she has great difficulty suppressing her true feelings for Finn, and Kennedy becomes suspicious. Eventually, she becomes so desperately unhappy, she flees to her father’s house. (At the end of the novel, Mr. Kennedy’s legal actions push her to move to the Continent, where the law cannot force her to return to her husband’s household.)

In the meantime, Finn makes the acquaintance of a charming, clever foreigner, Madame Max Goesler, the young and beautiful widow of a rich Jewish banker. More materially, he is appointed to a well-paid government position, in which he excels. It seems as if he is finally secure.

However, Lord Brentford learns of the duel with his son and withdraws his support for the next election.

Finn visits Ireland with Mr Joshua Monk, a leading Radical politician and a supporter of increased rights for Irish tenant farmers. Under Mr Monk´s influence, Finn becomes radicalised. At a political meeting in Dublin, Finn argues that a new tenant-right bill should be presented to the Westminster Parliament during the next session. When this happens, the government, of which Finn is a member, does not support it. Finn must therefore choose between his loyalty to the government and his political convictions. He chooses the latter, resigns his government position and retires from politics.

With his political career in shambles, Finn seeks consolation from Madame Max. In an unexpected development, she offers him her hand and her wealth in marriage. Finn is greatly tempted, but finally returns to Ireland to marry his faithful, long-time sweetheart, Mary Flood Jones. As a parting reward for his hard work, his party obtains for him a comfortable sinecure as a poor-law inspector in Cork at a salary of a thousand pounds a year.

 This novel is full of interesting political detail and just details of life in Victorian times – it certainly highlights (however intentionally or unintentionally) the lack of rights for women and the need for political reform – despite being a reformer Lord Brentford is able to order (essentially) his borough to elect Phineas. Phineas is a flirt – there’s Mary, Laura, Violet, Madam Max and then Mary again. I think it is clear that this novel was serialised and I think it could have done with a good prune when released as a single novel. However, for lovers of 19th century novels, politics or social history this novel  is well worthing reading.

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