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The First Book of Calamity Leekby Paula Lichtarowicz
A group of girls with strange names live in a walled community looked after by Aunty with occasional visits from Mother. They spend their days cultivating roses and vegetables, looking after pigs, and sewing cushions.
At first it appears that the setting for this book might be medieval for they live in a barn with straw beds and furs for blankets; but it’s not. Then I thought it might be a post-apocalypse dystopia, which is getting closer to the mark, but still not quite right. It does gradually become clear though, and the story of how things came to be in this enclosed world and its purpose, will surprise and horrify in equal measure.
The story of this community is narrated by Calamity Leek who, as a teenager, is one of the older girls in the group. Having grown up believing that the world beyond the wall is full of injuns and that she is being prepared for war she has, to us, a distinctly odd world-view. Calamity, being favoured by Aunty, is the keeper of the Index – an ever-expanding book of rules the girls live by, and it is her job to read from the rules each night.
When another of the oldest girls, Truly Polperro makes a failed attempt to get over the wall, Calamity has a hard time believing that Truly wanted to go and wonders what she might have seen. Truly’s desperate act of rebellion will change everything…
This was not an easy book to read at first, given Calamity’s limited life experience and upbringing by Aunty. Her language is full of a mishmash of terms and references that at times reminded me very slightly of the regression in the use of language in Russell Hoban’s wonderful Riddley Walker, although Calamity Leek’s speech is nowhere near as convoluted.
Aunty is a grotesque creation – a bit of Swelter the cook from Gormenghast, some Ignatius J Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces, a dollop of Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull, and bizarrely, just a tiny hint of the Hello, Dolly! loving robot Wall-E (believe me, if you read the book, you’ll get what I mean). Whereas Aunty is larger than life, Mother, on the other hand, is dessicated and skeletal.
I’d love to describe more about what happens, but don’t want to risk spoiling anything for you. The timeline also jumps about, so it’s hard to be sure about anything in the beginning. Calamity’s world may be strange, but Lichtarowicz’s imagery is rich, and the promise of a stream of revelations to come kept me reading to the end. (8.5/10)
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I received a review copy from Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The First Book of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz, Hutchinson hardback, pub 7th Feb 2013, 304 pages.
With a journey before him, Charley Mason’s mother was anxious that he should make a good breakfast, but he was too excited to eat. It was Christmas Eve and he was going to Paris.
This morning, I found this book in one of my bookcases (yes, I was ‘playing’ with my books again), but couldn’t resist sharing the festive quote of the opening lines with you. Somehow, I feel that that Charley will find the dark underbelly of the City of Light in Maugham’s 1939 novel. I hope to read on and find out.
Meanwhile, let me wish you all A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Karen at Miss Darcy’s Library nominated me for the Liebster Award (German for dearest or beloved), given and passed on by bloggers to blogs that are newer to them. In this meme you answer seven questions put to you by your nominator, then compile your own seven questions and tag some other blogs to pass it on to. I particularly like the fact that you are encouraged to publicise blogs that are new to you in this meme.
Here are my answers to Karen’s questions…
1. What is your favourite reading spot?
At the moment it’s in bed – first thing in the morning and last thing at night. However I do lust after a giant armchair – one big enough to put my feet up on – the Conran Matador one in red (right) would be perfect.
2. What do you think of movie adaptations of famous books? Do they enhance or hinder your appreciation of the book?
I tend to be of the persuasion that generally prefers to read the book first, then see the film or programme, so my own vision of it is not influenced. But, if the adaptation is classy and the casting good – it can enhance a later reading. Reading the Harry Potter books for instance, was more fun after the films started (mostly due to the wonderful Alan Rickman as Snape), similarly Colin Firth is now forever Mr Darcy…
3. Has a book ever made you want to travel to a particular place?
A single book, probably not. But with each book set in Venice I read and there are many, the desire to visit the city grew and grew. We went about six years ago, and loved it – I should probably return soon. I treasure the little drawing my daughter did (left) – she was 6 then – what perspective!
4. What is your reaction when someone you know dislikes a book you are especially fond of? Have you ever quarrelled over a book?
Ha ha. It depends on who’s doing the disagreeing! We’ve had some really great discussions at our book group over books that divided the group. Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night was one which I adored, and others hated – but the discussion was good, and it’s still a personal favourite.
5. Do you like knowing all about an author before you start reading their work or do you think biographical details aren’t necessary to understand and appreciate a book?
I always read the author biog and look at their photo if there is one because I’m nosy, and it’ll usually give little hints to their areas of expertise and interests which make reading the book more interesting. I wouldn’t necessarily check them out any further before reading, but I often look them up after finishing the book if I enjoyed it though.
6. In your opinion, what makes an excellent book review?
Ooh – that’s difficult. It very much depends on whether what I already know about the book/author, and very importantly, who’s doing the reviewing. I need to get a feel for the book: its broad themes, major characters, main plotline direction, but I don’t need much detail, the right feel is enough. However I do need confidence in the reviewer, be it another blogger, writer or critic – that’s something you build up as you get used to their style.
7. And just for fun: Mr Darcy or Mr Rochester? Darcy = Colin Firth – nuff said!
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That was really fun, and made me think – thanks Karen. Now it’s my turn to ask the questions…
- Does blogging every get in the way of reading for you, or does it enhance it?
- How often do you re-read books, and which have you re-read the most?
- Are there genres of writing that you won’t read?
- When you go on holiday do you take a holiday from reading, or is your case full of books?
- How do you shelve your books: alphabetically, fic and non-fic, or by theme etc?
- Tell me about an author you’ve recently discovered (whether new or old), and want to read much more of.
- … and finally for fun, what books do you want for Christmas
I’m going to tag a few bloggers whose blogs I’ve discovered this year and am enjoying. There is absolutely no compulsion to do the meme or pass it on – unless you want to that is, so I nominate Page Plucker, The Book Trunk, Alex in Leeds, Heavenali and The Book Boy. Anyone is welcome to have a go too if they wish, and do go visit the blogs I’ve nominated, they’re all great.
Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub
A novel set during the golden age of Hollywood has an instant allure, promising old-fashioned glamour and a look behind the scenes of the movies, plus possibly a whiff of scandal. That’s not what this novel is really about though, despite its title and monochrome cover …
Elsa Emerson’s family own a theatre in Wisconsin, and she grows up amongst the summer stock theatre crowd. Elsa is the youngest of three sisters and idolises Hildy her oldest sister who is beautiful and has potential as an actress. When Elsa is still only eight, Hildy commits suicide after getting pregnant by the leading actor that summer who then abandons her.
When Elsa is old enough, it’s not a surprise when she falls for that season’s leading man, but ends up marrying him. They head for Hollywood where Gordon has high hopes, and Elsa is soon pregnant. Gordon does get a contract for small parts with a studio, but it is Elsa that will soon eclipse him when she is spotted at a party by a studio boss.
He nodded. ‘Here’s what you should do. Do you mind if I tell you?’ Irving didn’t wait for her to respond. ‘Have the baby. Take a few months, lose thirty pounds. Not so much that you lose the milkmaid look, though. It’s your trademark – Miss Wisconsin, all sweetness and light. And Elsa Pitts isn’t gonna cut it, is it?’ Irving looked at her hard. Elsa blushed. He stared for so long that Elsa began to sweat even more. She reflexively put her hands around her belly, as if to protect the child from whatever was to come. Then Irving snapped his fingers so loudly that it echoed through the room, over all the chatting and flirting. Elsa was surprised that such a sharp, loud noise could come out of such a small person. ‘Laura Lamont,’ he said. ‘You want it? It’s yours. Come see me when you’re ready.’
Irving makes good on his promise, Elsa becomes Laura, and within a few years she’s a star – with two children already. Gordon can’t cope with this or being a father, and falls by the wayside, leaving Irving to become Laura’s husband number two. They have a near perfect relationship, which is cemented by Laura winning an Oscar, and finally providing Irving with a son.
By then we’re not quite halfway through the novel, and already Laura’s best years are behind her, which was a shame, for I’d enjoyed it a lot up until then. The second half is taken up with family matters, Irving’s poor health, Laura’s descent into addiction to pills, and an attempt at a comeback.
Elsa/Laura remains a girl from Wisconsin throughout really, and this holds the narrative back from really getting under the skin of the Hollywood studio system, which is what I’d hoped for more of. Straub doesn’t overglamorise the life of being a contract actor, fading star, or come to think of it, a major player.
This book is really about family though, not Hollywood. Wisconsin and LA really are physically so far apart, there’s little possibility of going home for the holidays. Elsa’s relationships with her parents are very different too – Elsa was very close to her father, and he has followed her career from afar; her mother though can’t forgive her for taking Hildy’s place, and this shows when her parents come to the Academy Awards and meet their grandchildren and Irving for the first time…
… Laura felt wretched next to her mother, because it should have been Hildy here in Hollywood, and she – still Elsa, always Elsa – should have been at home, back in Door County, her entire world only as wide as the peninsula. It was all wrong; Laura knew that. She was a body double, and her mother was the only one who saw it.
Many of the characters appeared to be inspired by real life actors and actresses – Laura’s best friend Ginger was a shoe-in for Lucille Ball for instance. I also gather that Laura herself has many parallels in her life with the actress Jennifer Jones, (thanks Red Rock Bookworm on Amazon).
A competent début and easy to read – I enjoyed this book. I did, however, wish that the first half had been longer, and the second shorter – a bit more Hollywood glamour and a bit less of real life butting in. (7.5/10)
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I received my review copy courtesy of Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub, pub Oct 11th, 2012 by Picador, hardback, 256 pages.
Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt
I started reading this book around ten days ago, and was shocked and amused in equal measure – but I paused around a third of the way through to give in to the hype and read JK Rowling’s latest (see previous post here) – and by the time I picked the book up again, a major sex scandal had broken, involving the now tattered reputation of a dead man who had been thought an unlikely hero, and rippling across the world of entertainment as more sexual harassment was revealed.
Sexual harassment is at the heart of this innovative satire, so it’s been a timely read. However, it’s the means to an end, not the primary target in this novel. Let me explain…
It’s back in the 1990s, and Joe is a salesman who has lost his mojo. He knows he can be the best, but only if he has the right product to sell in the right place. ’He had hit rock bottom,’ and is reduced to living in a trailer alone with his masturbatory fantasies, when he’s not philosophising to himself about the art of selling.
…What he was thinking, as he watched the sea and the birds, was Look how strong the impulse is! Because you can sell people just about anything if you can convince them it will give them a better chance to get sex. You can sell people just about anything if you can convince them its a substitute for sex. The only thing you can’t sell is the actual thing itself. That is, obviously people sell it, but you can’t sell it without shame.
… if you could give people a way to get it out of their system they would be a whole lot more productive. They’d be happier about themselves. Because there had to be a whole lot of guys like himself, guys who didn’t want to be spending the amount of time they were spending thinking about sex, guys who given the chance would rather get it out of their system and concentrate their energies on achieving their goals.
Joe comes up with the idea for forward-thinking companies (that are full of hot-blooded, testosterone-fuelled heterosexual salesmen) to outsource their sexual harassment policies. He will recruit special employees, each ‘a woman in a thousand’ who will be paid a lot extra for anonymously providing services when required, via a specially equipped bathroom cubicle which will present her naked bottom half to the selected male. They are the ‘lightning rods’.
It’s outrageous! It’s totally hair-brained! You won’t be surprised though to hear that Joe finds a company
brave dumb enough to try it out. It takes off, but things are never going to be simple, they’re only going to get more and more complicated. How will Joe cope? Will it work? What sort of woman would want to be take part?
Corporate practices, management programmes, and outsourcing are what this novel is really about. Nearing the end of the novel, you’ll almost believe it could really happen. You certainly sense the proprietorial pride in Joe, that despite his cod-philosophising whilst watching the birds, he has found an essential truth, (in the immortal words of M.Jagger & K.Richard, which seemed to fit):
“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find, You get what you need”
What makes this novel rather special is the language, as has been identified by the other reviews I’ve read too (see below). Although it’s full of sex of a sort, it’s never prurient, the descriptions are deliberately non-sexy, dead-pan, typically in business speak. Having been through some management schemes in my former life working for a multi-national company, I could recognise some of the types involved in delivering the programmes, and it made me laugh, and be thankful that I don’t work there any more (apart from missing the salary that is).
What I found most interesting though, was the fact that the novel, which despite having a focus on oversexed straight men, was not a male fantasy, but a female satire, written by a woman. The most powerful characters in the novel were the lightning rods who had their finger on the pulse of Joe’s scheme, and manipulated it and him for their own benefit. There are no easy answers to the questions that the story raises, and the author doesn’t attempt to provide them, she just helps us imagine what if …
This novel was very clever and extremely funny. I loved it. (10/10)
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I was sent this book to review by the publisher – Thank you!
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt. Pub in the UK Oct 2012 by And Other Stories, posh paperback, 297 pages.
Winter Journal by Paul Auster
I’ve been an Auster-fan ever since I first read The New York Trilogy in the late 1980s, which I re-read and reviewed here a couple of years ago. Between writing his novels, Auster also writes essays and volumes of memoir.
Winter Journal is a memoir largely told through the things that have happened to his body. In his early sixties, Auster has become preoccupied with the first signs of old age – something his 74 year old actor friend Jean-Louis Trintignant put into perspective for him when Auster was 57…
“Paul, there’s just one thing I want to to tell you. At fifty-seven, I felt old. Now, at seventy-four, I feel much younger than I did then.” You have no idea what he is trying to tell you, but you sense it is important to him, that he is attempting to share something of vital importance with you, and for that reason you do not ask him to explain what he means. For close to seven years now, you have continued to ponder his words, and although you still don’t know quite what to make of them, there have been glimmers, tiny moments when you feel you have almost penetrated the truth of what he was saying to you. Perhaps it is something as simple as this: that a man fears death more at fifty-seven than he does at seventy-four.
Auster starts by tellling his story through the things that have happened to his body, an inventory of its scars – the one on his cheek which he got aged three and a half caused by having such fun sliding along a shiny floor that he never saw a protruding nail in a table leg; numerous other sporting ones – but only one broken bone.
He tells us everything, not sparing the details however painful – the panic attacks that started after his mother’s death in 2002, and the car crash later that year that could have killed him, his wife and his family – he hasn’t driven since.
The other parallel track running through this memoir is a catalogue of all the homes in which Auster has lived his life, twenty-one of them, and thinking about the memories they invoke, about his parents, his friends, his girlfriends, his first wife, his second (author Siri Hustvedt), his children, but most of all his mother, whom he obviously adored, and simultaneously wished he’d known better.
The book is written in the second person – addressing himself; it gives a real sense of intimacy to his story. We frequently pop backwards in time as he remembers new things, but the general impetus is forward towards Auster as he is now at sixty-four looking forwards to the rest of his life.
Auster is an unconventional, analytical and eloquent writer, and this unconventional memoir was a delight to read, he can look with humour at himself as well as being serious. He is one of those writers whom I always enjoy whether in novels or other forms, regardless of the critic’s views, but I have to say this memoir was one of the very best I’ve read. (9.5/10)
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I was sent a US copy of this book by its publisher Henry Holt & Co. Thank you.
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Winter Journal Pub 6 Sept by Faber, Hardback 240 pages.
The New York Trilogy: “City of Glass”, “Ghosts” and “Locked Room” by Paul Auster
Caroline: A Mystery by Cornelius Medvei
This short novel is a weird and wonderful thing, slightly surreal in parts, but utterly captivating.
It is the story of Mr Shaw, who takes his family on their annual vacation where he tries to unwind from his day job in insurance, but is fretting internally (as is his wife), over his impending retirement. One day, they’re all out for a walk, and in a field up the road, Shaw’s son spots an animal…
‘It’s a donkey,’ my father said.
As if to confirm this statement of the obvious, the donkey stepped out of the carriage doorway and trotted up to us, and it was then we saw that she was a female. She tossed her head and snorted, and stopped in front of my father.
They faced each other across the sagging gate. He saw a rusty grey, barrel-chested donkey, with pretty ears nine inches long (one cocked, the other drooping to the left), head on one side, flicking her tail to keep the flies away. I noticed her shaggy coat and the pale whiskers on her upper lip, and wondered how old she might be. …
… And she, fixing my father with her great, dark, limpid eyes – ‘eyes a man could drown in’, as he later described them – took in the hair thinning at the temples, his nose reddened with sunburn, his stomach bulging slightly over the waistband of his shorts (like all his colleagues, my father always wore shorts on holiday, regardless of the weather; shorts were not allowed in the office).
I suppose this was the moment when the whole strange affair began; the moment, so well documented in classical poetry and TV soaps and sugary ballads, when two strangers come face to face; the heart thumps, an overpowering force shakes them like the wind in the birch trees above the stable – in short, they begin to fall for each other… An odd way, perhaps, to describe the first meeting, in a muddy field, of a middle-aged insurance broker and a donkey. But this was how it happened.
Instantly smitten, Shaw’s father buys the donkey who is called Caroline. He sends his family home in the car and takes two weeks to walk Caroline back home to live in their front garden. Soon he’s spending every spare minute with the donkey.
When the neighbours complain about her braying when he’s at work, the solution is simple – he takes her to work with him. Then one day his son discovers his father playing chess with the donkey in her shed … and this is when the tale takes a more surreal aspect, and here I’ll stop to save spoiling things, save to say that there is plenty more to come.
The narrative is interspersed with extracts from Mr Shaw’s papers, his researches into donkeys, his opnions on R.L.Stevenson’s classic travelogue Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, together with rather amateurish and grainy photos. They all add to the charm of this strange friendship.
When you think of humans with animal best friends, at one extreme there are the very real close relationships between shepherds and their dogs, (and yes, even the X-Factor winners Ashleigh & Pudsey). At the other end of the scale is James Stewart and his invisible six foot rabbit friend Harvey (from the 1950 film, and 1944 play by Mary Chase). You are never quite sure how real Harvey is, whether he’s truly imaginary, or a fairy spirit, whereas Caroline is quite clearly a real donkey with winning eyes and a way of getting people to do what she wants – but how real is her chess-playing prowess?
Whatever her skills, the relationship between the donkey and Mr Shaw is lovely, platonic, but also obsessive on his part. He, however, had been wondering how to handle his retirement, and she is both the way to ease him into it, and able to give him a new lease of life at the same time.
Full of humour, yet equally touching, this is a gentle but quirky novel that was a pleasure to read. (9/10)
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I received my copy courtesy of Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Caroline: A Mystery by Cornelius Medvei – Vintage pbk, pub July 2012, 160 pages.
Harvey [DVD] starring James Stewart (1950)
Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes and the Amateur Emigrant (Penguin Classics) by Robert Louis Stevenson
Waiting for Robert Capa by Susanna Fortes, trans from the Spanish by Adriana V Lopez
This novel is a fictionalised account of the true story of Gerda Taro and Robert Capa, two of the foremost photojournalists who reported on the Spanish Civil War.
The story begins in Paris though, when young Jewish German refugee Gerta meets handsome Hungarian photographer André. There is an instant strong bond between them, he starts to teach Gerta photography, and she becomes his assistant and manager, but it will take some time for them to become lovers. Gerta takes everything very seriously…
The way you look at things is also how you think about and confront life. More than anything, she wanted to learn and to change. It was the perfect opportunity to do so, the moment when everything was about to happen, in which life’s course could still alter itself. Many months later, just before daybreak in another country, beneath the rattling of machine guns in minus-five-degree weather, she would remember that initial moment when happiness was going out to hunt and not killing the bird.
Their circle in Paris was full of big names including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Man Ray and Matisse. It was difficult to get work amongst all this competition. One day Gerda had an inspiration – she invented a new persona for André and the elusive American photographer Robert Capa was born. Gerta also changed her name, to make it sound less Jewish and she became Gerda Taro.
Capa began to get photo-journalism assignments, and when the Spanish Civil War came, they both went out to Barcelona in 1936 and got stuck in. Gerda was just 26. Capa gained international fame for his photo The Falling Soldier, capturing that moment as a man gets hit in the head. They lived for adventure and were sometimes reckless in getting the shot, Gerda’s photos also being credited to the bogus Robert Capa.
Their relationship was no less intense. Once they fell in love, it was total and they didn’t need anyone else. Gerda refused Robert’s proposal though, needing space and to find her own way. She discussed this with her friend Ruth, back in Paris …
“The reality is I’ve never been able to choose. I didn’t choose what happened in Leipzig, I didn’t choose to come to Paris, I didn’t choose to abandon my family, my brothers, I didn’t choose to fall in love. Nor did I choose to become a photographer. I chose nothing. Whatever came my way, I dealt with it as I could.” She got up and began playing with an amber bead, tossing it between her hands. “My script was always written by others.”
Gerda struck out on her own, but she still loved Robert, and in the style of true star-crossed lovers their relationship ends tragically.
This is very much a novel of two contrasting halves, or rather locations. Gerta & André /Gerda & Robert in Paris as part of the intellectual left-leaning café society, and then Gerda & Robert in Spain at the sharp end. I loved both – the burgeoning love story and the obsession with work in a field that once experienced, would never make normal life seem the same again.
Gerta and André are an irrestistible couple. She, the blonde, cool and detached German, he, the passionate and dark Gypsy. I’d heard of the name Robert Capa, possibly in connection with the Magnum Agency, which he co-founded with Cartier-Bresson and others, but knew nothing about the man – the couple, and shockingly little about the Spanish Civil War other than that Hemingway and George Orwell had gone out there.
Fortes writes beguilingly about the Paris salons and the growing romance, and yes, I was relieved when they finally got it together. Their love scenes, although passionate are handled with some delicacy. This contrasts with the harder edge given to the war scenes in which the author manages to portray the horrors and the confusion clearly.
The Author’s Note at the end makes clear where fiction begins and ends – all the war scenes are documented. The inspiration was a photo published in 2008, after three boxes of unedited photos were discovered. The photo is of Gerda in bed wearing Capa’s pyjamas and captured Fortes’s imagination, and she resolved to tell their story.
Recently, I read another wartime historical ‘novel’ – HHhH by Laurent Binet, which was a totally frustrating read. Waiting for Robert Capa is a conventional narrative, but has an immediacy and a freshness that the other lacked for me. Although I did need to read a little background on the Spanish Civil War to make sense of the factions involved, you cannot read this story without being inspired to look at some of Capa’s wonderful photos. Guess which I preferred?! (9/10)
Spanish Lit Month is being hosted by Stu at Winston’s Dad
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My copy was sent by the publisher, thank you.
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Waiting for Robert Capa by Susanna Fortes, Harper pbk, 201 pages.
The 39 Steps by John Buchan (1915)
Richard Hannay is newly returned from living in South Africa, and he’s already bored with London. Everything seems to be happening elsewhere, especially in the Near East, and the Greek Premier, Karolides, seems to feature. ”It struck me that Albania was the sort of place that might keep a man from yawning.” Dinner, then the music-hall and strolling home, Hannay is still bored. “I gave half-a-crown to a beggar because I saw him yawn; he was a fellow-sufferer.”
He needs adventure, and is soon to get it when a neighbour, Scudder, ends up with a knife between his shoulder-blades after confiding in Hannay, who soon realises that a) he’ll be framed for Scudder’s murder and, b) the people who did for Scudder will be after him too. He borrows the milkman’s cap and coat and flees north to Scotland.
Thus begins a series of adventures for Hannay as he tries to evade the baddies, clear his name, and once he uncovers more of the dastardly plot, to bring to the attention of the right people in the Government.
It’s real boys-own stuff involving murder, chases by train, car and on foot, disguises, text-book villains, and also some kind people who help him – believing him to be an okay chap. However, it’s a small world, and the baddies are everywhere…
Many of the chapters are named ‘The adventure of …’ after the main characters he encounters: ‘the literary innkeeper’ in the Scottish wilds, who is only too happy to help, saying “It is all pure Rider Haggard and Conan Doyle.” , and ‘the radical candidate’ – a local toff campaigning to be elected, who just happened to have been at college with Hannay.
At just 113 pages in my edition, the adventure sped by with no time to rest. It was great fun, and Hannay is a real hero. At 37, he’s a man who’s seen and done many things. He’s rugged, resourceful and totally at ease with himself. You sense that he knows how to handle a gun but he’s also clever enough to decipher codes and talk at the highest level. What a guy!
Those familiar with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film, starring Robert Donat and Madeleine Carrol, upon reading this book, may well say ‘Cherchez la femme’, for there are no significant female characters in the book at all, and there are many other plot changes. (The current West End stage version is based on Hitchcock’s film). The 1978 film version starring Robert Powell was closer to Buchan’s original, but still adds a strong woman character, and goes for a different climax in the ending involving Big Ben, which I remember as being rather fab!
The plot of Buchan’s novel may have a few large holes in – Why Scotland? Why the coincidences of meeting friends out in the wilds, and stumbling upon the chief baddie’s lair? I’ll forgive him though, as I liked Hannay too much to wonder much about these holes. Buchan went on to write four more Hannay adventures, none of which I’ve read, but wager will be as much fun as the first. (7.5/10)
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To explore further on Amazon, click below:
The 39 Steps by John Buchan, paperback.
The Complete Richard Hannay: “The Thirty-Nine Steps”,”Greenmantle”,”Mr Standfast”,”The Three Hostages”,”The Island of Sheep” by John Buchan, paperback omnibus.
The 39 Steps [DVD] dir Alfred Hitchcock, starring Robert Donat.
The 39 Steps  [DVD] (1978), starring Robert Powell.
I bought my copy.