The author’s key point – nature is complicated – should be self-evident, but he demonstrates that a lot of people are blind to it. However, this book is too anecdotal and superficial. Read Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees instead, which is thought-(and probably argument-)provoking.
**/*** The Hidden Life of Trees *****
2018 Thumbnail Review #2 Lost Japan by Alex Kerr
Still haven’t been to Japan, and I’m about a thousand years too late for what I want. Does Japan still exist? No and yes, according to this fascinating insight. ‘If you think it’s not there, it is. If you think it’s there, it isn’t’ (Kerr quoting kabuki adapting the Heart Sutra). Japan is hideous and fascinating, repulsive and mesmeric. And so, so alien. Can’t wait to go.
Thanks to John Vagg for recommending Kerr.
I’ve read quite a lot of Helen Dunmore recently. The adult novels are variable. Zennor in Darkness (featuring D.H.Lawrence) is excellent; a sensitive and well-formed account of a close-knit Cornish community in WW1. A Spell of Winter (incest, also WW1) is OK but a bit cloying. Counting the Stars (Catullus, Rome) is too monodimensional. The Ingo Chronicles (five books), however, are outstanding. Two Cornish children meet two mermaids (the carving of a mermaid in Zennor church was the inspiration for the series), and journey into Ingo – the ocean. The series offers a fully realised Secondary World and strong plot lines. If you ever wondered what it’s like to live in the sea, read these books.
Zennor in Darkness *****
A Spell of Winter ***
Counting the Stars **
The Ingo Chronicles *****
Zennor in Darkness *****
2018 Thumbnail Review #4 Death to the French by C.S.Forester
Bought 1977, read 2019. It happens. This is old-school writing of the first water: extremely well written, well structured, utterly convincing. Set in the Peninsular War, it is a homage to duty. Honour too, but that comes from duty well done. There is an inescapable tang of British superiority, invalid today – most especially today – but a fascinating echo of the time (1933) it was written. And remarkably, large segments of the narrative are from the French point of view, and the French are as virtuously dutiful as the English. The historical detail is meticulous and the whole work compelling. You can see why Forester has been one of the most popular English novelists.
2018 Thumbnail Review #5 The Ship by C.S.Forester
A tour de force, and a tour of force. Crikey, talk about Aristotelian unities: the single action is set on a light cruiser during a skirmish on a WW2 Malta convoy, and lasts only a few hours. The cast of characters, and their back stories, is deftly lineated, the detail is absolute and convincing, and the narrative taut. Published in 1943, it is a fine close-focus depiction of men at war.
2018 Thumbnail Review #6 Statues in a Garden by Isabel Colegate
Initially promising, ultimately disappointing. It centres on a love affair conducted in country house circumstances on the eve of WW1; similar territory to her better-known (and better) The Shooting Party. Some well-observed character detail, but neither dialogue nor events are fully convincing.
2018 Thumbnail Review #7 The Diary and Letters of a World War I Fighter Pilot by Christopher Burgess
A minor work, but interesting because as well as giving the first-hand accounts of a young pilot’s life, it shows the attitude of most combatants, who saw the war as necessary and worthwhile (and at times exciting).
2018 Thumbnail Review #8 Lord Hornblower by C.S.Forester
More swash and buckle than the last two Forester novels I read, but ultimately less successful. It’s more episodic and patchy, and doesn’t cohere.
2018 Thumbnail Review #9 The Gauntlet by Ronald Welch
Something of a shock, on re-reading one of my favourite childhood books, to discover how much it has not merely influenced but actually dictated the course of my life. It’s a time-slip fantasy novel about a twentieth-century boy (it was originally published in 1951), who is drawn back in time to 1326. There he experiences life in a medieval castle and learns all about medieval activities like jousting and hawking. I read and re-read it as a child, and it sparked all my interests in things medieval, particularly castles, manuscripts and heraldry, and set me on my career as a medieval literature specialist. More strikingly, I’d forgotten that the author uses Carreg Cennen castle as the setting for the story – and Carreg Cennen is the central setting of Chs. 4-5 of Melody’s Dragon. Wow! There’s influence for you. Just goes to show how profound the impact can be of the books that obsess you when you’re young. I’m guessing the same must be very much true for others. I shan’t pry, but if you care to reveal what some of those books were it’d be really interesting.
2018 Thumbnail Review #10 The Aimer Gate by Alan Garner
This mini-novella is part of The Stone Book quartet, and describes a boy’s single day in WW1 when his uncle is home on leave. Descriptive, resonant, typically Garner; needs reading slowly, and twice. Children’s literature? Adult literature? Who knows (or cares)?