Should I do Dunnett?

One author I have yet to read is Dorothy Dunnett.  I own the first few volumes of the Lymond chronicles thanks to my late Mum. She enjoyed them very much and was re-reading them back then. They are renowned for not being an easy read though, requiring perseverance and frequent referring back or to a guide to remind yourself of who’s who and what’s what.

For anyone who’s not heard of the Lymond Chronicles, they are set during the middle of the 16th century, and tell the story of Francis Crawford of Lymond, a Scottish nobleman. They feature a lot of real historical characters too, and the action ranges from Scotland across Europe and the Mediterranean. There are six volumes in the series – each of around 500 pages.

She has a heavyweight cadre of fans too. Before she died in 2001, she set up the Dorothy Dunnett Society; they now host an ‘International Dorothy Dunnett Day’ or IDDD which will be on November 10th this year.

Before I read up a little about her and discovered the existence of the above society, I toyed with the idea of inviting you lot to join me in reading the first in the sequence, The Game of Kings. It has four parts of roughly 190, 90, 90 and 200 pages – the last can be split again into two.  Then if we liked it, we could do the second volume Queens’ Play.  We could take it in leisurely fashion, starting on IDDD (Nov 10th) and regrouping in the New Year to review the first and largest chunk, then the smaller chunks over the next four months to the end of April …

… then I read DGR’s post from 2007 and saw the problems Lynne and her co-readers had with ‘Dunnettmania’.  It all sounds more than a little daunting. Added to that, all the books are out of print in the UK, (although it is in e-book format), and secondhand copies are available – at a price…

So dare I?  Dare we?  Have you done Dunnett?

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To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Game Of Kings
Queens’ Play
The Dorothy Dunnett Companion


Who killed the penguin?

Morgue Drawer Next Door by Jutta Profijt, translated from the German by Erik J Macki.

This unusual crime novel is narrated by Pascha – he used to be a car thief – the best young one in Cologne. Pascha has become a sort of detective, teaming up with Dr Martin Gänsewein, a forensic examiner for the city. They have a bit of a love-hate relationship, Martin is very good at his job, but is a little set in his ways; Pascha can be like an annoying dog, always nipping at his heels. Martin does believe in justice though, and Pascha’s heart is in the right place for an ex-car-thief.

They met in the morgue, when Martin was performing Pascha’s autopsy – yes, Pascha is a ghost! Martin is the only person he can communicate with, which drives him mad – but the two do work together well. The story of their meeting, in which they investigate Pascha’s own murder, is told in the first book of this series Morgue Drawer Four, which I’ve not read, (but would now like to).

In Morgue Drawer Next Door, the unlikely pairing have a new case to investigate. A convent in the posh area of Cologne, has a fire in which one sister perishes, and another is burned to a crisp, but hangs on in ICU. The run-down convent needs a lot of expensive restoration work done and the police are inclined to think that the fire was an accident. One person knows differently however – the nun who died, Sister Marlene. Marlene’s spirit lingers – she has a mission to accomplish before passing on.

When Pascha finds her, he takes her under his wing and vows to help. The only problem is that Martin is a) not supposed to be back at work yet after having been stabbed (in the previous novel), and b) would rather Pascha was not around so he can progress his fledgling romance with the lovely Birgit. Pascha becomes go-between, for Marlene can only communicate with him, and goaded on by the two ghosts, Martin grudgingly gets on the case.

Martin is gloriously grumpy and reluctant to get involved in another case – after all, he got stabbed the previous time. He also wants more downtime from Pascha being in his head. He’s not a policeman, he’s a pathologist, but knowing that the fire was no accident, he can’t leave it. He must find a way of getting the right information on how to solve the crime to the police without them condemning him as a crackpot who talks to ghosts! Luckily for Pascha, Martin’s new girlfriend Birgit is game for helping him out, and has no idea about the ghosts.

This brings me to Pascha and Marlene. Their interplay is so sweet and funny. You can imagine how a middle-aged nun would react to the testosterone-led mindset of a young man, yet there is no-one else for her to turn to to show her the ropes of being a ghost. Sister Marlene soon realises that, and the chalk and cheese pairing are soon whooshing all over the place and manipulating situations to find the proof they need.

Although this all sounds delightful and irreverent, which it is, there is a more serious side to the novel regarding the work of the convent. Amongst other things, they run a night shelter for the homeless, and none of their neighbours like it. The surrounding area has gone up in the world, and the new posh inhabitants don’t want bums on their doorstep, nor do the allotment owners nearby, or right-wing groups. The nuns are under pressure on all sides to shut up and ship out.

The novel is narrated throughout by Pascha, who maintains that he is writing a book, and there are frequent asides about his Editor. Initially, this was slightly irritating, but you can’t help warming to Pascha. There is a lovely bit where he tries to justify his having been a car-thief to Marlene – generating wealth in insurance, people buying new cars etc, and keeping the manufacturers in work.  Marlene too, although pious, is humane and does have a good sense of humour for a nun – something she had needed in her work one surmises.

If you enjoy crime novels with humour and a lot of heart, this may be one for you. Knowledge of the first volume is not necessary to enjoy this one, but I certainly want to read it now I’ve read the second. (8.5/10)

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I received my book to review from Amazon Vine.
To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:

Morgue Drawer Next Door by Jutta Profijt. Amazon Crossing paperback, Jul 2012, 256 pages.
Morgue Drawer Four – the first book in the series.

John Wilson does it again

The highlight of last year’s Promenade Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall for me was the John Wilson Orchestra, who performed a night of Hollywood film music. I was lucky enough to get tickets for my Dad and me, and we enjoyed every minute.

For the Proms this year, Wilson relocated from the West coast to the East – and compiled a divine evening of music celebrating the golden age of the Broadway musical, and I was in place to get tickets as soon as booking opened again, but this time for my Dad, me and Elaine of Random Jottings.

It’s so lovely when you finally meet blogging friends you’ve been corresponding with for ages, it’s always a pleasure and our virutal friendship has now been cemented into a proper one, and I hope we can meet up again soon (certainly for the Proms in 2013). Elaine has also blogged about the evening here.

Before I describe some of the musical highlights, if you like musicals and are in the UK, set your recorders for BBC2 on Saturday 1st when it’ll be broadcast on TV.

The key thing for me, listening to and watching John Wilson’s handpicked orchestra, is that the players really invest themselves in the music – they visibly live, breathe, and enjoy it so much. The sense of fun, drama, melancholy – whatever the song desires, the orchestra embodies it.  Add a superb choir in the Maida Vale singers, and an A-list cast of soloists and you have an evening of musical bliss.

Below is a clip of Anna-Jane Casey and Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane performing the comedy number ‘Seven and a half cents’ from the Pyjama Game, one of two duets they performed together. Wilson’s programme was a lovely blend of the familiar, Tonight from West Side Story (sung beautifully by Sierra Bogguss and Julian Ovenden), and lesser known gems of songs like Joey, Joey, Joey from Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella, and Little Tin Box from Fiorello! – I’d never heard of either musical, but these songs were great, and all six soloists were amazing. The orchestra also did some instrumental numbers – I loved the jazzy ballet Slaughter on Tenth Avenue from On Your Toes.

After the show-stopping closer ‘Mame’ (see Elaine’s post for a clip of that), we were all on our feet to give a standing ovation, and were rewarded with a wonderful encore which featured a row of tap dancers in Top Hats, Spats and Tails. What a night!

“Summer fling, don’t mean a thing, But, oh, oh, the summer nights”

August is a Wicked Month by Edna O’Brien

When I came across this short novel published in 1965, in a bag of books from my late Mum’s, I had to read it straight away for two reasons.  The obvious one is the title – it’s August – when better to read it.  The more compelling one however, was the cover photo on my edition which is of O’Brien herself.  Apart from ‘Read me’, her direct look seems to imply a book that will be chaste and wanton, and definitely hints at darkness. Of course she does know what fate has in store for Ellen, whose story this is.

Ellen, a young Irishwoman, is separated from her husband. As the book opens, he has arrived to take their young son off on a long camping trip. Ellen waves them goodbye, and a few days later she’s no longer missing them, for she has company, and foreplay soon starts…

He was doing what he could. Her arms were singing and her hips wild with little threads of joy running through her like little madnesses. After a year’s solitary confinement.
‘I’m out of practice,’ she said.
‘A girl like you.’ He didn’t believe it. Who would? She was twenty-eight and had skin like a peach and was a free woman with long rangy legs and thick, wild hair, the colour of autumn.

Ellen in appearance sounds rather like Edna herself, doesn’t she?

Her lover is a married man with kids, and another mistress called Miranda. Ellen is under no illusions, but after a night of passion, she does believe they will see each other again…

‘I suppose we’ll ring each other up,’ he said when she got out and stood on the kerb holding the door.
‘I suppose we will,’ she said. Wise now with the soft lustre of love upon her. Her eyes shining. They would meet soon and she would open again. The river of his being flowering into the pasture of her body. She was thinking of that when she got to the restaurant.

O’Brien is brilliant at using the world of nature for describing the joys of sex – while it’s all going well that is!

It’s a slack time at work, Ellen has some leave saved up, and feeling lonely after her encounter, decides to go to the south of France on the spur of the moment, with sun and sex on her mind. Every man she encounters gets the once over as a potential holiday romance. Her instincts aren’t always right though – the handsome Frenchman sitting next to her on the plane was looking forward to getting back to his wife and family in the mountains; the young hotel bell-boy gets the wrong end of the stick and makes a pass. With slightly less of a language barrier, will the Austrian violinist from the hotel orchestra be more the right thing?

‘And this,’ he asked, pointing to where her nipple lay, flat, under the flowered dress.
‘Hot word,’ he said. It took her a minute to understand that he wanted not ordinary words, but erotic ones for wooing Englishwomen.

Soon though, she falls in with the entourage of an actor, and is courted by his manager Sidney, an older man. Hoping that the actor Bobby will eventually notice her, Ellen joins the party and is whirled into another world full of drama.

From this point on the book took on a distinct aura of Hemingway’s rich young things from The Sun also Rises – life is just drink, party, drink, get bored, drink, drive, drink, fight, drink, party, drink – you know the sort of thing; but also the failing relationships of Dick and Nicole Diver from Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.  There’s a timeless quality to this group’s exploits that echoes those earlier novels, and of course the Mediterranean setting reinforces it too – the sun and blue water acting as a reflecting and magnifying lens. I can’t tell you what happens after that. You’ll need to find that out for yourself – but it’s shocking on several levels.

Having become a mother while very young, Ellen’s release from the confines of single parenthood allow her to revert to her younger self and become a flirt. This, she enjoys at first, but as her holiday continues, it becomes something much darker, even an drug. O’Brien takes us into the mind of Ellen, from the frivolity of her lusty passions to the clarity of maturity that comes from having experienced the cycles of real life, and tinged with Catholic guilt. I really felt for Ellen.

This novel has so much light and shade – being racy and earthy, and full of the joys of love and nature, with some robust language, and then coming down to earth with a bump – becoming matter of fact and direct. I think I’ve found another author from the second half of the twentieth century to add to my list of greats.  Like Beryl Bainbridge and Muriel Spark, O’Brien doesn’t waste words, or pad things out with long descriptive passages.  This novel may not have Beryl’s wicked humour, but it’s packed with romance and darkness and didn’t disappoint. Thanks to my mother too, I’ve got several more O’Briens to read. (9/10)

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I inherited this book. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
August is a Wicked Month by Edna O’Brien. Pub 1965. Paperback, 169 pages.
Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises (Vintage Classics) by Ernest Hemingway
Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald.

Saatchi on Saatchi

My Name is Charles Saatchi and I am an Artoholic: Everything You Need to Know About Art, Ads, Life, God and Other Mysteries and Weren’t Afraid to Ask by Charles Saatchi

The title of this little volume may be a bit of a mouthful, but former ad-man, now the foremost UK collector and exhibitor of modern art, Saatchi is a man unafraid of frankness. This book from art publishers, Phaidon, consists of a whole lot of questions which were put to him by critics, journalists and members of the public. His answers are very candid and direct.

He has two loves in his life – modern art and Nigella (Lawson, the cookery writer); indeed most of the questions are about one or the other couched in many different ways. His answers are wholly consistent, fascinating, and I was really entertained by them too.

To give you a flavour – here is a small selection of the many Q&A …

Q: How do you choose what to buy? Is it about what you like, or will you buy things you don’t like as an investment?

A: The more you like art, the more art you like. So I find it easy to buy lots of it, and seeing art as an investment would take away all the fun.

Q: As a general rule, are art critics all failed artists, and dismissed as such?

A: In the UK we have so many newspapers carrying lengthy art reviews that most shows find themselves getting a mixed bag of responses, and no one critic matters that much, whatever their credentials. My favourite, Brian Sewell, has never written a favourable word about any show I’ve done in 20 years, but dismisses them with such grandeur and style, it’s almost flattering to be duffed up by him. The days when critics could create an art movement by declaring the birth of ‘Abstract Expressionism’, Clement-Greenberg-style, are firmly over. By the way, there is no such thing as a failed artist.

Q: What’s Nigella’s cooking really like?

A: I’m sure it’s fantastic, but a bit wasted on me. I like toast with Dairylea, followed by Weetabix for supper. It drives her to distraction, frankly, particularly as she gets the blame for my new fat look. But the children love her cooking, and our friends seem to look forward to it.

Q: Did For the Love of God, Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull, symbolise the emptiness of modern art – more about money than message?

A: My dear, the money is the message.

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I bought this book. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
My Name is Charles Saatchi and I am an Artoholic by Charles Saatchi, Pub 2009, Phaidon books, 176 pages.

Mid-book cull – pause for a giggle or three…

As you may have surmised, I’m in the throes of having a major book cull. I gave seven bags full to my daughter’s school fête back in June, and have been working my way through the other piles, double-stacked shelves and bags over the past weeks.  I’ve sorted out some worth selling via various routes (including the tab above), loads to car boot or try other methods, and some will go to the charity shop. There are over 200 to go now, lots still to come – I may make a list.

Apart from my own book mountains – there were a couple of unsorted bags-full from my late Mum’s still to deal with, and I’m having fun going through them…

Firstly, I’ve allowed myself to be distracted from the heavyweight pleasures of John Saturnall’s Feast by a short Edna O’Brien novel – the first of hers I’ve read, but it seemed appropriate for the time of year… August is a Wicked Month is a 1965 novel in which a twenty-something divorcée looks for love while her young son is on holiday with his father. A couple of chapters in and it’s very racy, and I’m sure that 50 shades author E L James would never describe a certain something as like a ‘foxglove‘ – ‘high and purple‘! (*blushes*). Fun though so far, ahem!

My late Mum often stuck a Post-it note with comments on book covers, or cut out a review and stuck it inside after reading a book. Delving in a bag I came to a book called Pushkin’s Button by Serena Vitale.  Inside was a clipping from the Literary Review of another book about Pushkin, with her note on top – this sounds better-written than this book.  Further down the bag was the book in question – Pushkin by T J Binyon – with a Post-It on the cover saying ‘Better than Pushkin’s Button’. Don’t think I’ll read them though.

Lastly – a nice coincidence…  Today Simon T posted about a book he abandoned after just 1.5 pages. That was Gone to Earth by Mary Webb. Funnily enough, I found a very tatty ex-library copy of it amongst my Mum’s books – and I binned it.  Seems I had the right instinct about it!

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To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk
August is a Wicked Month by Edna O’Brien
Pushkin’s Button by Serena Vitale
Pushkin by T J Binyon
Gone To Earth (Virago Modern Classics) by Mary Webb

An evening with Vera and Jimmy … and Ann Cleeves

I spent a great evening hearing about two fictional British detectives yesterday. Two totally different people – the frumpy, middle-aged Vera Stanhope (pronounced Stannup) from Northumberland, and the descendant a Spanish sailor from the Armada who was shipwrecked at Fairisle in the Shetlands.

Both were created by Ann Cleeves, who had escaped for the evening from a writers retreat at St Hilda’s college in Oxford to come and talk to us at Mostly Books in Abingbdon.

Anne talked at length about her two detectives, how they came to life and the experiences that gave her the ideas for the novels.  Ann was really witty and entertaining, telling us about some of the funny little details that she believes make novels. She also told us of her love of translated crime novels – particularly Henning Mankell’s spectacular beginnings, (cf Sidetracked).

She also spoke about the experience of having them transfer to the small screen: Vera is 2 series in on ITV starring Brenda Blethyn; and Shetland’s Jimmy Perez will be on the BBC this November, portrayed by Dougie Henshall, (who lacks the Jimmy of the book’s Mediterranean ancestry, but Ann thinks will be great).  Although having had to hand over her characters for the TV series, Ann was very pleased to have been involved throughout the process, and is particularly delighted that parts of Shetland were filmed in situ, bringing work there and helping to promote tourism.  She met her husband while working on Fairisle as a cook at a bird sanctuary many years ago, and they return to the Shetlands regularly.

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Which brings me to Raven Black – the first novel in the Shetland Quartet…

It’s New Year’s Eve and Magnus is ready for visitors, revellers, not that he’s expecting any, but you never know. He doses, then he’s woken up by a banging on the door …

‘Come in,’ he shouted. ‘Come in, come in.’ He struggled to his feet, stiff and aching. They must already be in the storm porch. He heard the hiss of their whispers.
The door was pushed open, letting in a blast of freezing air and two young girls, who were as gaudy and brightly coloured as exotic birds. He saw that they were drunk. They stood, propping each other up. They weren’t dressed for the weather yet their cheeks were flushed and he could feel the health of them like heat. One was fair and one was dark. The fair one was the prettier, round and soft, but Magnus noticed the dark one first; her black hair was streaked with luminescent blue. More than anything, he would have liked to reach out and touch the hair, but he knew better than to do that. It would only scare them away. (page 2)

It’s not giving the game away to tell you that one of the girls will soon end up dead, and that, for various reasons, suspicion will fall on Magnus who has a murky past. Inspector Jimmy Perez has to get the investigation started, and call in the crime scene experts from the mainland; it’ll be his first murder case. The pressure is on to solve it before Up Helly Aa – the Shetlanders’ Viking fire festival later in the month. They send in a team from Aberdeen to speed things up, and Inspector Taylor, a hyperactive Scouser, takes charge. He and Perez take to one another and work together to solve the case, (working together – unusual for a crime novel!).  Taylor’s expertise and Perez’s local knowledge will both be needed to unravel the tangled webs of relationships on this island where everyone knows everyone, or at least think they do.

As Ann explained, the major theme of this novel is outsiders.  The old guy Magnus is an outsider because of his past; the murdered girl’s family are incomers from London; and Perez – although an islander, is from Fairisle outside the main island group, and with his Mediterranean heritage is also an outsider of a sort. That’s not to say that Jimmy doesn’t know how Lerwick’s society works though – when he was eleven he’d had to come from Fairisle to stay with the other pupils from outlying islands in the hostel for school. Perez is conflicted between his love for Fairisle and the possibility of returning to become a crofter, and the love of his job and the possibility of a more exciting life.

I liked Jimmy Perez very much, and am really looking forward to the next in the quartet, White Nights, which is set at midsummer.  Raven Black won Ann the first Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award (which replaced the CWA gold dagger). If you’re not read any of the Quartet, Ann recommends starting at the beginning, whereas the Vera novels are more standalone.

Despite being a crime novel set in the depths of winter, Shetland is a really alluring setting. That, combined with Jimmy and a plot that is strong on interrelationships made Raven Black a brilliant read. (9/10)

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Raven Black (Shetland Quartet 1) by Ann Cleeves. Pub Pan Macmillan. Pbk 320 pages.
White Nights (Shetland Quartet 2)
The Crow Trap (Vera Stanhope 1)
Vera Series 1-2 [DVD]

A dystopian psychodrama that packs a punch…

I Have Waited, and You Have Come by Martine McDonagh

Set in a near future where global warming has wreaked Mother Nature’s revenge on the Earth and made large parts of the globe uninhabitable due to rising water levels, Rachel lives alone in a old mill in the Yorkshire Dales. Jacob used to live with her but he left. Rachel still keeps his study as he left it though, as if he might walk through the door again one day.

Without Jacob, Rachel survives, taking no joy from life. Rachel grows vegetables, keeps chickens and takes more care of them than herself. She had wanted children, but Jacob said they wouldn’t survive being brought into this world and persuaded her it was a bad thing – she can’t help being broody though at her age. She used to be an artist, but that’s fallen by the wayside too.It’s an effort to do anything, and her nearest neighbours are a short trek away. She prefers to keep to herself, remaining hidden within the walled compound of the mill except for her visits to the market run by Noah…

I duck into my favourite doorway, which I use as a lookout to check the coast is clear before going down to the market. Today of all days it is important I have Noah to myself because what I am about to do is something I would once have considered rash.
An intense, yellow, off-kilter stare from the opposite doorway jolts me back into the present. I step forward, whooshing air through my front teeth, and stretch out a hand to attract the attention of the mange-ridden but still charismatic ginger cat. But he fancies himself as a sphinx too disgusted with humanity to even acknowledge my existence. I straighten up and disguise my intimidation by fumbling in my jacket pocket for the scrap of paper I put there; unfold it to check its eight-number inscription is still legible: Rachel. I refold it and pin it to my palm with my fingernails.
Reassured now that Noah is alone, I step out into the precinct. Hel-lo. One syllable per footstep, I rehearse my grand entrance.

Noah is the only man Rachel knows, and she’s plucking up courage to ask him out. Meanwhile a new man is on the scene – Jez White.  He suddenly starts cropping up when she expected to see Noah. She begins to feel as if she is being watched, or is she getting paranoid?  She needs to find out more about Jez White.

This novel manages to combine the nightmare of a post environmental apocalypse with a psychological thriller and throws in a few overtones of Margaret Atwood’s classic The Handmaid’s Tale for good measure.  Rachel being an outsider and aloner, her refusal to want to belong to any of the remaining isolated communities, makes her tough yet fragile. You aren’t quite sure how reliable she is as the narrator, and the growing sense of unease as the story progresses adds to the tension.

She is a survivor though, and that thought inevitably led me back to a favourite TV series of mine from the 1970s – Terry Nation’s Survivors, (the original, not the more recent TV remake). In this series, a killer flu epidemic wiped out 95% of mankind, leaving the remainder to fight it out, keep the species going, and impose a new world order.

McDonagh’s novel is a fine example of the spec fiction genre, the changed world she has created seems eerily real. I enjoyed reading it very much. At the moment, it is her only novel, but I do hope she publishes more.  (8.5/10)

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My copy was sent by the publisher – thank you.
I Have Waited, and You Have Come by Martine McDonagh. Myriad Editions paperback 2012. Originally published 2006. 181 pages incl Author Q&A.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Survivors – Series 1-3 Box Set [DVD] [1975]

A day out in London with much Wenlocking…

My daughter and I planned a day out in London yesterday: arrive just in time for lunch at Ed’s Easy Diner in Soho – burgers and shakes and good music 50s style, then up to Madame Tussaud’s (which I’ve never been to), then taking advantage of the Kids go Free offer on at many West End theatres in August (click here) to see Wicked.

Lunch was great.  The queues to get in at Tussauds weren’t great – even though we’d pre-booked, and it was a bit of a scrum inside, and one big selling opportunity – in each room the most popular figures you could be photographed with were strictly paid for only (e.g. The Queen and Wills & Kate). Some of the waxworks were eerily real (Amy Winehouse, Prince Charles, Patrick Stewart), others were really rubbish (George Clooney, Daniel Radcliffe, and R Patz in particular). I won’t be rushing to return there. Luckily, Jessica Ennis was one of the good ones (look at those abs!) …

I haven’t read the book Wicked by Gregory Maguire which gives the witches of Baum’s Wizard of Oz a cracking back story that introduces contemporary themes whilst being true to the original. The musical, with music by Stephen Schwartz (Godspell etc) has a several outstanding numbers, fabulous sets, and a great cast led by Rachel Tucker.  We had the alternate Glinda, Chloe Taylor – but she was wonderful. It was Wicked!

But what did we do in between the main events? Starting from Trafalgar Square where Nelson was supporting Team GB too, we went hunting for Wenlock and Mandeville – the Olympic and Paralympic mascots. We picked up a map from one of the many helpful 2012 helpers, who were everywhere, which gives a load of walking trails around central London along which are stationed statues of the mascots. My daughter loved this; by the end of the day my feet didn’t any more! we must have walked several miles in the heat discovering fourteen statues. Then we had to stand up on the 1130 train home as far as Reading – who’d have thought that all the seats were reserved at that time of night.  Home at 12.45am – and the minute we got in Juliet who is not quite twelve yet was buzzing again.  We actually both had showers before we got to bed at around 1.30.

Great photo ops though, and London was looking wonderful with all the flags everywhere. What a wonderful, if tiring day out.

My Policeman, Your Policeman …

My Policemanby Bethan Roberts

This is a story of two people who love the same man.  Firstly Marion, who fell for Tom, the brother of her best friend, the first time she saw him …

He was leaning in the doorway with the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to the elbows, and I noticed the fine lines of muscle in his forearms. He couldn’t have been more than fifteen – barely a year older than me; but his shoulders were already wide and there was a dark hollow at the base of his neck. His chin had a scar on one side – just a small dent, like a fingerprint in plasticine – and he was wearing a sneer, which even then I knew he was doing deliberately, because he though he should, because it made him look like a Ted; but the whole effect of this boy leaning on the door frame and looking at me with his blue eyes – small eyes, set deep – made me blush so hard that I reached down and plunged my fingers back into the dusty fur around Midnight’s ears and focused my eyes on the floor.

The other, later, is Patrick.  As the book opens, Marion is setting down her story, telling it for Patrick who has had a stroke.

It’s Brighton in the 1950s, and Thomas – Tom, has returned from his National Service to become a trainee policeman.  Marion is now a school teacher, and strikes up a friendship with Tom who offers to teach her to swim. They become a couple, but their relationship is not exactly romantic.

One day, Tom takes Marion to the museum to meet a friend of his, Patrick, one of the curators.  Tom has a naive appreciation for art that belies his tough rugged exterior; Marion goes along with it.  Patrick becomes a regular feature of the couple’s lives, and still Marion doesn’t suspect … or does she?

Patrick takes up the story in his diaries, and from him, we get to see how circumspect and brave he has to be to maintain a gay relationship during this time when it was illegal – and with a policeman too.

The narrative alternates between the two, each telling us about their policeman. Tom is sometimes quite difficult to read – he has a strong physical presence, but is very laconic, very self-contained and self-absorbed. Our sympathies lie not with him, but with the two people who love him.  As their lives pan out, and things take on a dramatic turn which I can’t tell you about, I was so caught up in these lives that I found a tear running down my cheek.

This evening I went to hear Bethan talk about the book at Abingdon Library – she’s a local girl and worked in the library for a while before doing a creative writing MA, and moving to Brighton where she’s now based.

Her previous two novels took their inspiration from real stories and people – The Pools from a local murder, and The Good Plain Cook from the life of Peggy Guggenheim. My Policeman also took its inspiration from a real life – that of E M Forster, his posthumously published novel Maurice, and Forster’s relationship with Bob Buckingham, a policeman, whose wife May nursed Forster after he suffered a stroke.

Bethan transposed the bones of that story from the 1930s into the 1950s for the novel. She enjoyed researching the period, getting lots of extra tips from her mother and aunt about growing up in that decade. The attention to detail shows.

Any novel that can move me to tears has to get my recommendation. I loved this book. (10/10)

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I received my copy to review from Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
My Policeman by Bethan Roberts – Vintage Paperback, Aug 2012, 352 pages.
The Pools, The Good Plain Cook – both by Bethan Roberts.
Maurice (Penguin Classics) by E M Forster