Book Review: Regeneration – Pat Barker.

I wrote the other day about my first ever book club meeting, and how much I had enjoyed it. Now comes the review, my thoughts and feelings.

For the record, I read this at the first part of a trilogy (I purchased all three parts as a single volume, it was cheaper than the individual parts) and it was on my Kindle. The Amazon page for this is here.

Plot Summary (Slight Risk of Spoilers).

The story revolves around Siegfried Sassoon, the famous poet. Most British people have heard of him because of having to study World War I poetry at school, and his poetry is useful for those studying because it shows a very distinct arc. At the beginning of the war Sassoon’s writing was full of patriotic fervour, but by the end it was a bitter, angry denouncing of those in charge.

Regeneration is set in 1917. Siegfried Sassoon has written a declaration denouncing the war, and an MP is shortly going to read it out in Parliament (everything that happens in the chambers is recorded in Hansard, the official record of government business). As an act of protest it was a dangerous one. Sassoon could have been considered to be stoking dissent in the ranks. Robert Graves, another famous writer persuades Sassoon to accept being sent to a hospital for shell shock.

At the hospital Sassoon meets Rivers, a doctor charged with helping those officers who are suffering from shell shock to get better with an eye to being sent back to the front line.

Reading It.

This is one of those strange books where it isn’t really appropriate to say that I enjoyed it. The story is at times extremely harrowing, and my notes that I made as I read show that. I describe one character as a bastard having read the chapter where he, to all intents and purposes tortures a poor patient. Having said that the writing was excellent, never feeling laboured or stilted in any way. This is especially important in those sections that talk about the awful experiences the soldiers have endured.

I would say that if anyone is setting out to read it they should probably avoid doing what I did. I found myself wondering how much of the story was factual, and what, if any were the product of the author’s imagination. This being 2014 I did what any right minded, internet connected person would and googled Sassoon. Obviously he has a Wikipedia entry, and obviously it tells you about what happens at the end of the book!

Reading More.

I really did find this a striking book to read, and one that I am sure will stay in my memory for a long time. I didn’t want to start reading the rest of the trilogy straight away. It was the sort of read that you feel the need to ‘decompress’ after. But I will, and soon. And I’m looking forward to it.

And Finally.

I have signed up to the Blogging101 blog-prompts. Today’s task was to change the title of my blog, so I’ve done this. But the above is my actual blog entry. I have a list of blog topics in case the prompts don’t work, or require an entry. I’m trying to improve my blogging habit and my writing style.

Project Gutenberg: Sticking it to the man.

In my last post I urged anyone intent on reading ‘The Secret Adversary’ to head over to Project Gutenberg to get a copy for free.

Of course, it isn’t absolutely free, someone is paying for bandwidth, storage and the like. If you find that Project Gutenberg is a service that you use then you might think about making a donation to their upkeep.

The subject of copyright is one fraught with difficulties. A lady I know on Facebook has just published her third novel of a series. The books have been well received, and she is, understandably very pleased with how things have gone. But within a couple of days of the books launch she found messages asking for ‘cracked’ copies of the e-book of the novel. This isn’t a rich author, but a lady working hard to put her heart and soul into something that the public will want to read. And having managed to (a) write her story so well that it has a willing audience and (b) managed to get it published, she now has to hope that the majority of people who want to read it will purchase a copy to make it all worthwhile.

I am conflicted. I believe very strongly that artists both deserve and need to be suitably recompensed for the work that they put into their creations. The call for an illegal copy is reprehensible. But there should be a limit on the extent of copyright. Copyright is intended to ensure that both authors and the wider cultural space are enriched by artistic creativity. For a period of time the control of all works stays with the author (or their representative). The author will receive payment for the instances sold. This is as it should be. More power to those who represent this model. But when copyright comes to an end (a point which in America recedes at approximately one year per year, essentially making copyright for the last 50 years ‘in perpetuity’) then the work should enter the public space where it will help to enrich our cultural heritage.

The issue is complicated by the change to the nature of ownership which is inherent in the e-book reader ecosystem which currently holds sway. At the moment when you ‘buy’ a book from Amazon for your Kindle you don’t actually own it. You essentially license it, an agreement which can be revoked unilaterally by Amazon, seemingly with little in the way of redress or appeal.

And at the end of the day this is my real conflict. I love my Kindle. I really do. I love how you can readily carry around tens of books in a slim electronic device which supports searching, bookmarking and dictionary lookup. But I do worry about the power of corporations to modify the very nature of ownership.

2013 Book Report 15: The Secret Adversary – Agatha Christie.

Agatha Christie is best known for her murder mysteries starring characters such as Miss Marple and Poirot. The Secret Adversary feels therefore like a change of direction and of form. The story revolves around a young man and woman who, suddenly unemployed after the war set up a venture offering themselves up for any job required of them.

They are contacted and soon find themselves involved in international espionage including Bolsheviks and spies.

The story twists and turns, with frequent ‘aha’ moments, liberal red herrings and intrigue, all handled with supreme skill by the author.

I won’t try and distil the story here. My memory of the events of the narrative would not do it justice, and I would be unable to avoid spoilers which would be a shame. I recommend this book heartily. It is a real page turner, with twists which avoid feeling contrived or engineered.

In an ideal world Dan Brown would be kept away from a word processor until he had read this book several times and could indicate the lessons that he had learned from doing so.

Clue: ‘With a single bound Jack was free’ is not a plot device worthy of the reading public!

If you are in the market for reading this on your Kindle then head over to Project Gutenberg where they have it available free. My favourite price for a classic.

2013 Book Report 12: They Do It With Mirrors – Agatha Christie.

Another Agatha Christie ‘who dunnit’ that I read immediately after reading the Poirot reviewed below. This time the central protaganist is that other staple of Christie’s work, Miss Marple.

Miss Marple’s character bears a striking resemblance to TV Columbo. She bumbles around gathering information which she then weaves together into a conclusion. Like Columbo, a large part of the pleasure of the process is seeing how the answer is constructed. Unlike Columbo, you don’t get to find out at the beginning of the story just who the guilty party is.

As with ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’, the story is complex, but well managed, and the bits and pieces of the story are meted out at a pace which keeps you interested, without ever being overwhelming.

My only caveat is that I wouldn’t read two Agatha Christie’s back to back again.

2013 Book Report 11: The Mysterious Affair at Styles – Agatha Christie.

Like PG. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie is a writer whose works have endured. It is impossible to be part of the Western culture and not be immersed in her works. The multiple incarnations of Miss Marple and Poirot and the cliche about the butler having ‘done it’ are written into the DNA of our culture.

This, like the PG Wodehouse stories before it, is the first time I have read Agatha Christie. Once again, as with Wodehouse, the language is of its time and its stilted feel sometimes gets in the way, but the quality of the story telling still bursts through.

The story concerns the wife and mother at the centre of a family who, having been widowed has remarried. She is murdered by being poisoned, with, it transpires, strychnine. In classic ‘who dunnit’ form, there are several likely candidates of murderer, and it is up to Poirot to unpick the clues and red herrings.  The process and the narrative is handled with aplomb by Christie.

I won’t try and write a description of the story. It is worth the investment of your time to read it, and even more so, the investment of your money (it is available for a tiny sum on a Kindle). This book stood the test of time, to my mind, far better than the PG Wodehouse. May be the language is less stilted, or, may be the fact that one is a comedy, and comedy relies more on a fleet footed handling of the words. Anyway, an enjoyable read, and I plan to read many more Agatha Christie’s in future.

Note: I edited this entry as I noticed when refreshing my memory regarding plots that I got the plot of this book confused with the one that I read straight away afterwards. Always a danger when you read two or more very similar books one after the other, and then wait a couple of months to blog about the experience!

2013 Book Report 7: Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen.

I was spurred on to re-read this book again because this year is the 200th anniversary of it being published.  Not too long ago it wouldn’t have required prompting as I have probably read this book once a year since I was sixteen. But a handful of years ago I stopped my annual read. I think I might have stopped for a time because of reading ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’. In hindsight, the two sort of complement each other, probably more than the author of P&P&Z intended.

I was also prompted to some extent because the book that I read before Pride and Prejudice (First Amongst Sequels – Jasper Fforde) featured P&P as the classic text that Thursday Next had to save.

And of course, if there was no other reason to revisit P&P, there is always the fact that it is a wonderful read.

The short review: I Love This Book!

This book feels to me to be verging on the perfect. The threads of the story each unfold with an almost perfect pace. Nothing ever feels either spun out or rushed. And many of the lines feel crafted to perfection as they say everything that needs to be said without wasting a word.

The central story is familiar. Elizabeth and Darcy falling in love despite the many challenges that they face. But the story never feels clichéd or old.

The BBC adaptation from the beginning of the 90s is the best adaptation, but no version comes close to the book.

2013 Book Report 6 – First Among Sequels – Jasper Fforde.

I read the hardback edition of this book which I bought at a book signing it Cambridge. It is available through Amazon here, and it is now available on Kindle, and presumably on other ebook readers.

This is the fifth book in the ‘Thursday Next’ series. The story revolves around Thursday Next and her ability to jump into the narrative of books. Using other books as the backdrop to the adventures taking place is a great trick. It allows people to weave their own literary knowledge with the story at hand.

As another dimension in this story TN is teamed up in her literary detective work with the written versions of herself. Unfortunately the written versions include one pseudo Lara Croft alike and one hippy dippy type, both of which are similar to the real TN, but also dissimilar enough to make the three versions all dislike each other intensely.

I love the Thursday Next series, for their surreal writing, soaring imagination and literary insider jokes. I know at least one person who finds them irritating in their whimsy, and I can see what they mean, but each to their own. If you liked the previous Thursday Next books then this is going to be an enjoyable romp. I think it holds its own amongst its compatriots. It won’t win over anyone who didn’t like the others either, but then I don’t think you would expect it to.

I still plan to read the rest of the series (there are another two), but I think this level of surreal fun is best sampled in small aliquots.