A near-future techno thriller…

Deja Vu by Ian Hocking

deja vuThis novel is one of the first publications from a new indie publisher called Unsung Stories, specialising in ‘genre fiction that defies categorisation’. Déjà Vu is essentially near-future science fiction with a techno-thriller slant to it.

It is 2023. Saskia Brandt is a Berlin-based detective in the European FIB. Returning from a stressful holiday during which she became single again, she finds her receptionist has been murdered – and she has been implicated. Her boss Beckmann gives her twelve hours to prove her innocence.

Meanwhile in Oxford a university professor, David Proctor, is getting up – he dresses in ‘his usual loafers, chinos, shirt and blazer; clothes that Joyce, his girlfriend, called CGC, or Consultant Gynaecologist Chic.’ (that tickled me for some reason). David is instructing his prototype AI computer, Ego, when a call comes to tell him the other Ego units have been stolen. No sooner has he finished the call than he realises that a door is open somewhere, then he feels a weapon pressed into his back and Ego starts talking to him telling him it’s been hacked, and that he has return to Scotland when he gets a call from Colonel McWhirter about Onogoro, the virtual world he had created with his old colleague Bruce Shimoda. ‘Onogoro must fall,’ the voice tells him.

In Nevada, billionaire John Crane arrives in secret at Helix Base. He searches out Jennifer Proctor (David’s daughter) in her lab. Jennifer has been putting the finishing touches to the Déjà Vu project – enabling time travel – and her employer Crane needs her to send him back in time…

Even though they don’t know it, the fortunes of Saskia, David and Jennifer are already closely linked. David had previously been accused of trying to blow up the West Lothian centre, his wife Helen had been killed in the explosion – surely he couldn’t have done it?  Why do they want him to come back there? Saskia has a big personal shock in store for her once her twelve hours are up. Surely the key is going to be Jennifer’s project – is whatever will happen already pre-destined due to the impossible paradoxes otherwise of time travel? It’s telling that Saskia has a recurring dream of the three Fates of Greek myth: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos who respectively spin, measure and snip the thread of life.

I’m not going to deliberate further on the plot of this novel as it is complicated with the layers of conspiracy and paradox. At its heart though is the simpler re-kindling of the relationship between father and daughter, wrenched apart when Helen died, together with Saskia’s search for her true self. To understand the present you need to understand the past and untangling the threads of what happens when is the key.

Published in print and e-book form by Unsung Stories last year, the technology in the book seemed too futuristic for less than ten years into the future – but doing some digging afterwards revealed that Hocking originally self-published this novel in around 2005 and has penned two more self-published Saskia Brandt novels since. So if it was originally written some more years ago, that definitely fits this vision of the near future better – although Apple are probably not so far off the Ego computer with its fledgling artificial intelligence – Ego could be the iPhone 25 or something! Much more futuristic is the implant chip in Saskia’s brain which controls and modulates her to some extent – does that make her a cyborg or bionic?

Apart from that niggling incongruity between the publishing year and the technology, what also irritated me were little bits of over-writing here and there: “The high ribwork of the orangery joined a sternum thirty feet about the floor.”  In its defence, the techno-thriller plot was quite fun, having a feel of the brilliant 1980s TV series Edge of Darkness to it in many ways (a political/nuclear thriller drama from the BBC). I did like the character of Saskia though and I hope she develops in her further adventures which are to be published too. (6/10)

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Source: Publisher – Thank you. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Deja Vu by Ian Hocking. Unsung Stories, 2014, paperback 328 pages.
Edge Of Darkness – The Complete Series [1985] [DVD]

A Dance to the Music of Time 4: At Lady Molly’s

Dancing Powell

At Lady Molly’s by Anthony Powell

Dance 4 Lady MollysWe reach Summer with volume four of Powell’s sequence following the life of Nick Jenkins and his contemporaries.The initial three Spring novels were about growing up and establishing oneself in the world and in The Acceptance World took a rather serious turn. That done, there’s time for a breather. Summer is going to be about consolidation and much more fun; for Jenkins et al that will mean thoughts of marriage!

It starts with Jenkins remembering an episode from his childhood when he encountered Mildred Blaides at the home of General and her much older sister Mrs Conyers. in 1916 Blaides, working as an indifferent volunteer nurse is emancipated and an independent spirit, smokes ‘gaspers’, wears ‘glad rags’ and ‘beetles’ about.  This start made a change from the previous three novels which all started with Jenkins reflecting on a work of art – but I needn’t have worried for on page 10 back in 1934, Jenkins recalls Constable’s painting of Dogdene, the home of the Sleafords, which became an officers hospital during WWI.

In 1934, Jenkins has moved on from the art publishing firm and is now a scriptwriter at film studios to the west of London. It is his colleague Chips Lovell who takes him to his Aunt Molly’s (an Ardglass and sister to Lady Warminster who is stepmother to the Tolland girls, she married into the Sleafords, and is now married to Captain Teddy Jeavons – got that?). They have an open house in the evenings, (but it is a much higher class affair than the wilder nights at Mrs Andriadis’ in the second book). It is here that he finds out who the potential second husband of Mildred is:

I myself was curious to see what Mildred Blaides – or rather Mildred Haycock – might look like after all these years, half expecting her to be wearing her V.A.D. outfit and smoking a cigarette. But when my eyes fell on the two of them, it was the man, not the woman, who held my attention. Life is full of internal dramas, instantaneous and sensational, played to an audience of one. This was just such a performance. The fiancé was Widmerpool. Scarlet in the face, grinning agitatedly through the thick lenses of his spectacles, he advanced into the room, his hand on Mrs. Haycock’s arm. … There was something a little frightening about him. That could not be denied. …

‘Well, he is no beauty,’ said Mrs. Conyers.

Oh dear!  It’s obvious that this relationship will be doomed from the outset, yet you have to credit Widmerpool for being so dogged in his pursuit of social standing – but to choose an older woman who is so used to getting her own way seems ridiculous. The vision of Mildred the cougar and Widmerpool the toy boy is hilarious. Mildred is a demanding fiancée and ere long Widmerpool is struck down by jaundice, leaving her to carry on regardless. Nick finds himself questioned on all sides about Widmerpool’s parentage, and then by Widmerpool himself for some advice in the bedroom department!

Inbetween, all the usual intrigue and wife-swapping goes on between Nick’s friends and acquaintances. It’s hard to keep up with them all and the families seem to be so inter-related just beyond the level that would be incest! Eventually, Nick meets Isobel Tolland and he instantly knows that she is the one.

This volume is a real comedy of manners. Widmerpool, as usual, is the target or cause of most of the happenings, but as always, he soldiers on. All the jolliness has to be played against the rise of Hitler and Fascism which is always in the background now. It will be interesting to see how WWII affects this set in subsequent volumes.  However, back to the comedy: one new character is introduced in this book who is hilarious – Smith, the butler. He buttles for Lord Warminster (brother-in-law of Lady Molly’s sister), known as Erridge or Erry. He is rude, lazy and working his way through the wine cellar – but Lady Molly borrows him from time to time. Uncle Giles only gets a mention this time, but Nick has ready-made Giles substitutes in Teddy Jeavons and General Conyers.

I really enjoyed At Lady Molly’s and am thoroughly immersed in my monthly doses of Jenkins’ world – Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant next… (9/10)

My reviews of the previous volumes:
1 – A Question of Upbringing
2 – A Buyer’s Market
3 – The Acceptance World

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Source: Own Copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate link):
At Lady Molly’s (Dance to the Music of Time) by Anthony Powell (1957) Arrow pbk, 256 pages.

The first Little bit of a Big novel…

Just to say I’m joining in the readalong  of the modern classic fantasy novel Little Big by John Crowley this May, hosted by Dolce Belezza, together with Helen of A Gallimaufry and Tom of Wuthering Expectations.

little big uk pbkI read this book back in the early 1980s when it first came out in paperback – I remember I was drawn to the cover (left) with those blues and violets like a magnet. It’s 25 years old this year, and it’s fair to say I’ve forgotten almost everything about the actual novel. I almost exclusively read fantasy and science fiction back in those days, devouring without remembering much of it.

little big pbk

The edition I currently own (rescued from a charity shop) has more of a Gothic feel to the cover with the sepia photograph and gives me the impression somehow of being an American version of Gormenghast (which wouldn’t be a bad thing?). We’ll see, but it begins thus:

On a certain day in June, 19–, a young man was making his way on foot northward from the great City to a town or place called Edgewood, that he had been told of but had never visited. His name was Smoky Barnable, and he was going to Edgewood to get married; the fact that he walked and didn’t ride was one of the conditions placed on his coming there at all.

Given Little, Big‘s reputation as one of the best fantasy novels of the later 20th century, I’m very much looking forward to getting stuck into the world of Smoky Barnable and Daily Alice Drinkwater once more.

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate link):
Little, Big (FANTASY MASTERWORKS) by John Crowley, 1981. Gollancz paperback, 560 pages.

A new TBR project

Annabels Shelves

Dear Readers – I’ve been inspired!

Simon recently wrote a review of a book previously unknown to me called The Shelf by Phyllis Rose on the lovely new incarnation of his blog Stuck in a Book. In this book, the author reads a shelf of books in her local library – the good, the bad and the ugly, and uses them to discuss the joys of reading. I can’t resist books like this – especially as it’s subtitled An Adventure in Extreme Reading – I’ve ordered a copy!

Given my failure in sticking to the TBR dare this year and the never-decreasing size of my TBR piles, I thought I could adapt The Shelf‘s principles to my bookcases.

So my project – Annabel’s Shelves is born with its own page up top.

It’s very simple –

  • I will read my way through my big bookshelves as on my header from A-Z.
  • I will start by picking a book by an author or title beginning with A, and then move on to B etc.
  • I will read one book per month – or more if I feel like it but it must be from these TBR bookshelves.
  • I hope that when I get to Z – I’ll want to start again.

Those are the only rules, but I plan to concentrate on new to me authors and modern classics rather than some of the comfort reads that I know are up there.

I’m not asking anyone else to join in – I have no cast-iron schedule for this.  But, as I borrowed the basic premise from elsewhere, do feel free to whatever you like with the idea!

I’ll choose my first book from the shelves later – so here’s your chance to suggest some authors/titles to me beginning with

A-3

(Letter from Daily Drop Cap)

Irene – Alex – Camille: The Verhoeven trilogy comes full circle.

Camille by Pierre Lemaitre

camille

I was meant to be reviewing this for Shiny New Books‘  in the ‘Extra Shiny’ edition (coming to you on May 12th).  I loved it, it is definitely a ‘Shiny’ book, but it is the final part of a trilogy and I felt it would be too difficult to write at length about it without spoilers of the whole trilogy – although if you were to read each book’s blurb, you would get the main gist of what happens!

Although Alex was published first in the UK, the trilogy begins with Irène, then Alex and is concluded by Camille, (links to my reviews). All three have been translated by Frank Wynne, and he’s done a wonderful job.

One character dominates throughout – Commandant Camille Verhœven, the pint-sized detective in the Paris Brigade Criminelle, and as Camille starts the scene is set for us with the calm assurance that when we turn the page all hell will be let loose:

10.00 a.m.
An event may be considered decisive when it utterly destabilises your life. … This decisive, disorienting event which sends a jolt of electricity through your nervous system is readily distinguishable from life’s other misfortunes because it has a particular force, a specific density: as soon as it occurs, you realise that it will have overwhelming consequences, that what is happening in that moment is irreparable.
To take an example, three blasts from a pump-action shotgun fired at the woman you love.
This is what is going to happen to Camille.
And it does not matter, whether, like him, you are attending your best friend’s funeral on the day in questions, or whether you feel that you have already had your fill for one day. Fate does not concern itself with such trivialities; it is quite capable, in spite of them, of taking the form of a killer armed with a swan-off shotgun, a 12-gauge Mossberg 500.
All that remains to be seen is how you will react. This is all that matters.

Camille’s lover Anne Forestier is in the wrong place at the wrong time when she gets caught in a raid on a posh Parisian jewellery shop. Beaten and badly injured, she survives, but she may have seen the assailant’s face – and they’ll be coming for her.  Camille should declare a conflict of interest, and hand over the robbery and assault to another investigator – but can’t. He can’t let history repeat itself and is prepared to break all the rules …

I’m not going to say any more about the plot specifics.  It careers along taking place over three days with the time given at the start of each section. We’re constantly wrong-footed and it’s clear that Camille is out of control – yet knowing what happened before, we can’t blame him for it. Thank goodness his assistant Louis and boss Le Guen are still around to help where they can, but it’s all about Camille, Anne and their adversary, the others are secondary characters to this case which is so personal, not a team effort.

A crime trilogy is rather a daring thing these days, when detective series seem to run and run. I liked the finality that announcing that Camille is the final part of a trilogy brings. The anticipation of how it could all end was palpable from the start. You feel Camille’s pain, anger and desire to avenge so acutely this time – these strong emotions have been there from the first book, but come to a head at the end.

I can’t think of a series of crime novels that have so engaged me before that I’ve given each volume 10/10 – but the Verhœven trilogy gets exactly that, I can’t recommend them enough – but do start with Irène.  (10/10)

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Source: Publisher – thank you!

To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Camille (The Camille Verhoeven Trilogy)by Pierre Lemaitre, pub March 2015 by Maclehose Press, hardback, 320 pages.
Irène and Alex , paperbacks.

 

Shiny Debuts – Love and Linkiness…

Today’s batch of Shiny linkiness from my reviews in issue 5 of Shiny New Books features three debut novels. All absolute crackers! Please click through to read the full reviews and join in the comments:

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

eorj This is a quirky quest novel, wherein 80-year-old Etta decides to walk to the sea – 2000 miles from Saskatchewan to the Atlantic Ocean. She leaves behind two men who love her, husband Otto and neighbour Russell, and we’ll find out all about the three of them as her journey goes on. And no, it’s not the Canadian Harold Fry – it’s totally different.

This novel was a quirky yet understated pleasure to read – I loved it.

Click here to read my full review (and see a clip of Emma talking about her grandparents who inspired the book).

Fire Flowers by Ben Byrne

Fire Flowers Europa Editions’ first British novel is a story of lost siblings and romance set in Tokyo following the prolonged firestorm that moreorless destroyed the city, and starts on the day of the Japanese surrender at the end of WWII.

The story is told by four characters. Satsuko Takara and her younger brother Hiroshi have been orphaned and separated by the firestorm. Satsuko will never give up looking for her teenaged brother, whereas he assumes she is probably dead. Then there is Hal Lynch – an American who used to be an aerial photographer, now a photo journalist for the US press in Tokyo. Lastly we follow Osamu Maruki, a writer and Satsuko’s lover before he was sent to the South Pacific. The four have separate lives in the ruined city, and they will cross paths although not necessarily meeting.

Fire Flowers is the first novel I’ve read set during this time and place. It was a gripping historical story, heart-breaking and heart-warming in equal measure. A remarkable debut – I loved it too.

Click here to read my full review

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

fuller I’ll put my cards on the table – as of today, this is still the best book I have read so far this year!

It tells of a girl Peggy, daughter of Ute, a German concert pianist and James – a survivalist. In 1976, James takes little Peggy off to live in a hut in the woods in the Black Forest, telling her the rest of the world has gone. Nine years later she is back, naturally damaged by her experience. We tease out the story of what happened in the book’s present and in flashback. It is full of fairy-tale resonance, very dark, sometimes humorous, but always full of music. Absolutely fantastic!

Click here to read my full review.

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Source: Publishers – thank you all!

To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate link):

 

First person plural…

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

virgin suicidesTwo things prompted me to promote this novel, which had been in my bedside TBR bookcase for ages, to the top of the pile.

Firstly, although not written for teens, I cited it in the post I wrote trying to comprehend the current vogue for suicide-lit in teen novels (see here).

Secondly, after reading reviews of Weightless by Sarah Bannan by Victoria at Shiny and Harriet on her blog. (I desperately want to read this book now!) Weightless is not about teen suicide, although it does appear quite dark – but it is written in that rarest of styles – the “first person plural” – as is The Virgin Suicides

This novel was Eugenides’ 1993 debut – a very daring one at that.  Fancy publishing as your first novel a story about a family of five unconventional teenaged sisters who commit suicide and told from the collective point of view of the group of teenaged boys who had worshipped them wanted to get into their pants!  It hits you right from the start:

On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide – it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese – the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope. They got out of the EMS truck, as usual moving much too slowly in our opinion, and the fat one said under his breath, ‘This ain’t TV, folks, this is how hast we go.’  He was carrying the heavy respirator and cardiac unit past the bushes that had grown monstrous and over the erupting lawn, tame and immaculate thirteen months earlier when the trouble began.

We’re then told of Cecilia’s first attempt at suicide, slitting her wrists in the bath. Cecilia, at thirteen the youngest of the Lisbon girls, survived this. She gets patched up in hospital:

“What are you doing here, honey? You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets.”
And it was then Cecilia gave orally what was to be her only form of suicide note, and a useless one at that, because she was going to live: “Obviously, Doctor,” she said, “you’ve never been a thirteen-year-old girl.”

The Lisbons’ five daughters were born a year apart. Somehow I couldn’t help but mentally compare the family to the Bennets in Pride & Prejudice!  The girls are very close-knit, and Lux (14) is definitely a Lydia-type. Mr Lisbon is a maths teacher at the local high school, perplexed by his five daughters, so not unlike Mr Bennet in that regard. Mrs Lisbon is the antithesis of the flighty and voluble Mrs Bennet though – she is steely, closed and authoritarian, a strict Catholic – and to be honest we never find out much more about her. Mr Lisbon is a maths teacher at the local high school, and seems to be liked well-enough there, but is totally under the thumb at home. But enough of the Austen comparison!

The Lisbon family kept themselves to themselves. The girls weren’t allowed out on their own, and weren’t generally allowed to have guests home either. No wonder the girls are the subject of speculation and a challenge to the local teenaged male population. A while after Cecilia returns home from hospital, Mr Lisbon persuades his wife to let the girls have a chaperoned party at home – the first and only one they’ll have. Their friends and neighbours join the girls in the basement and things are getting going when Cecilia, wearing a cut-down vintage wedding dress, quietly asks to go upstairs – and defenestrates herself, impaling her body on the railings.

This is the beginning of the end really, although it will take a year before the other girls follow suit. The family is never the same, Mrs Lisbon is even more closed in, Mr Lisbon becomes an emotional wreck, their house starts to get shabbier and shabbier. The girls close ranks too whether by choice or confinement. Only Lux has a wild, feral air about her – sneaking out at night to have assignations with countless partners on the roof. Then the anniversary of Cecilia’s death approaches… naturally I can’t tell you more about what happens.

All the while the boys watch and talk about the Lisbon girls. They collect anything to do with the girls, from the news articles after Cecilia’s and later the others’ deaths, to Lux’s discarded album sleeves, to copies of medical reports later smuggled out for them. These items form a catalogue –  ‘The Record of Physical Evidence’ as they try to come to terms with and understand the events of that tragic thirteen months. Everyone has their own theory about why they did it, but will they ever really know?

VirginSuicidesPosterThere is a dreamlike quality to this novel, contrasting sharply with the events within. I remember that feeling came across very well in Sofia Coppola’s feature-film debut – she wrote and directed. Kirsten Dunst (having turned down American Beauty) was troubled teen Lux, with James Woods and Kathleen Turner as Mr and Mrs Lisbon. I must watch it again, I remember it as rather good.

I read Eugenides’ epic second novel Middlesex pre-blog – I remember finding it rather drawn out (in the same way as Donna Tartt to me). The Virgin Suicides is much shorter, coming in at just under 250 pages. If you think that makes for a fast-paced read though, think again. Although it’s not long, the months between the bookending events are explored in much detail. This does make for a slightly flabby middle – as  the boys recount the events in hindsight, collect their evidence and present it to us through their team leader narrator. We never get to know which one of them narrates and we never get to know how long after the events they’re actually telling the story. If you’re looking for answers and resolution, this isn’t a novel to give them to you – in fact it’ll leave you with more questions.

The Virgin Suicides certainly marked the emergence of a great new American writing talent though, and I enjoyed it very much. (8.5/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (affiliate link):
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, 4th Estate paperback, 260 pages.
The Virgin Suicides [DVD] [2000] dir Sofia Coppola.

It’s World Book Night tonight …

world book night 2015

It’s World Book Night in the UK tonight – an evening when passionate booklovers all over the country thrust copies of books they love into stranger’s hands to promote our shared love of reading.

I applied to be a giver once again, having done it twice before. I gave out copies of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John Le Carré on the first WBN in 2010, and then Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch last year (links are to my reviews).

spring-tideThis year I will – eventually – be giving out copies of the marvellous Scandinavian crime novel Spring Tide by Cilla and Rolf Börjlind – which I recently reviewed here.

I say eventually because, for whatever reason, the email from the WBN people telling me the books were at my pick-up point didn’t happen. So I made the trip down to my local library after lunch today, only to find that Thursday is early closing. I’ll be giving them out as planned next week instead then …

If you’re a giver, I hope you’ve managed to get hold of your books and have a great time distributing them. I know that many bookshops will be hosting WBN parties and there’s a big do in London. If any of you are the recipient of one of the special WBN editions of the 20 books chosen, I hope you enjoy reading it.

Happy World Book Night!

An Economic Allegory?

The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse by Iván Repila

ivan repila

At 110 pages, this short novel in the Pushkin Press Collection is easily read in one session. Once grabbed by this powerful story I wasn’t going to put the book down until I’d finished it.

It concerns two brothers, who are only known as Big and Small appropriately to their comparative sizes. They are trapped at the bottom of a well which, like a mould for an iceberg, is wider under the surface the further it goes down. Their attempts to climb out fail; Big tries to throw Small up and over, this doesn’t work either. No-one hears their cries, despite the well being not far from the path. Will they ever get out, or will they die down there?

The days go on, they survive on worms, maggots and the earthy water from the sludge, portioned as per their size. Big keeps up his exercise regime. Small gets thin, sickly, and feverish but does recover a little. Big admonishes him for not eating.

‘You should eat even if you aren’t hungry.’
‘I’ll eat whem I’m hungry. I’ll drink when I’m thirsty. I’ll shit when I feel like shitting. Like dogs do.’
‘We aren’t dogs.’
‘In here we are. Worse than dogs.’

Later:

‘I think I’ve got rabies,’ he says.
‘No. You don’t have rabies yet.’
Small looks at him lovelessly, and asks:
‘Then what is this anger I can feel inside?’
‘You’re becoming a man,’ says Big.

The days go by and Small starts raving, making up tales including one that he was ‘the boy who stole Attila’s horse’. Big keeps up his regime. It gets harder and harder to find food, and all the time they have had a carrier of bread and cheese they were bringing back for their mother by their side – now beyond eating. The days carry on, Small gets ever-weaker. Big does his best to keep him alive…

This story is so Grimm – it is really a modern fairy tale. The boys’ struggle is told unsparingly in its detail in Sophie Hughes’ translation from the Spanish, from the taste of maggots to their physical state, yet it is not until near the end that we find out what happened. The brothers’ love for each other shines through, although there are some truly dark moments. On this level it is a compelling and touching tale with some flashes of humour just when you thought it was getting too black.

Where I had problems with it though was as an economic allegory of the state of Europe – that’ll teach me to read the publisher’s blurb just before I start a novel!  Indeed the whole book is prefaced with a rather nasty epigraph from Margaret Thatcher (and another by Bertold Brecht). It wasn’t until I read John Self’s excellent review at Asylum that I was able to formulate my thoughts in this regard: The hole or void is pyramid shaped – the boys are at the bottom where they are literal and metaphorical have nots. It would take a miracle for them to reach the surface where they’d join the haves – but how do you climb out of a void?  That’s my take, but I’m not sure I’d have got the economic allegory, even noting the quote from Thatch, if I hadn’t been pre-warned.

This strange little fable was definitely well worth reading for the writing is fine indeed. It’s Repila’s second novel; the first to be translated into English – it’ll be interesting to see what comes next. (7.5/10)

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Source: Publisher – thank you. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below (Affiliate link):
The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse (Pushkin Collection)by Iván Repila, 2013 trans Sophie Hughes 2015. Pushkin Press, paperback original, 110 pages.

Woolly Jumpers…

Breaking the Code by Gyles Brandreth

brandreth breaking codeI read this book just pre-blog back in summer 2008. Brandreth’s political diaries from 1990-1997 – the time that he was an MP (Tory, for Chester) were fascinating reading. They recount, with his customary wit, all the goings on in and out of the chamber, committee rooms and the Whips’ office. He was one of William Haig’s speech-writing buddies.

I enjoyed reading his diaries very much but have no desire to re-read them, so this book is going in the garage sale/charity shop box.  But – before it finds another home, I wanted to share the most hilarious paragraph in it – I bookmarked it all those years ago. You need a small bit of background to put it into context…

Before becoming an MP, Brandreth was particularly noted for being one of the regular resident wits/brains in Dictionary Corner in the teatime C4 TV show Countdown. In these appearances, he usually wore novelty jumpers – and people used to send them in for him. The extract below is from 1993 during the time that the Maastricht Treaty to create the European Union from the EEC would come into force later that year, the Railways Act would later enable Major to privatise parts of British Rail …

Tuesday, 20th April

The Maastricht nightmare drags on – we finished at 1.13 a.m. yesterday. The Railways Bill drags on – Roger Freeman is a joy to watch, but I’ve falled between two stools. You can either (like Sproat) ignore the whole thing, site in a far corner of the committee room, reading correspondence, signing letters, or (like Stephen [Milligan]) you can get stuck in and follow the Bill line by line. I’ve been following it, but not with sufficient attention to detail to make either a worthwhile contribution or any impact. (My only ‘moment’ was when Prescott started muttering ‘Woolly jumper! Woolly jumper!’ while I was speaking. I came up with a reasonable riposte: ‘The advantages of a woolly jumper is that you can take it off at will. The disadvantage of a woolly mind is that you are lumbered with it for life’)

Photos of Brandreth wearing the ‘woolly jumpers’ are not so prevalent these days – but I did find this one – from the 1000th programme of Countdown with L-R Brandreth, Carol Vorderman, Richard Whiteley, Richard Stilgoe (another regular trying to outdo Brandreth in the jumper stakes here!)

Countdown

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, (affiliate link), please click below:

Breaking The Code: Westminster Diaries by Gyles Brandreth – new edition hardback 2014.
Breaking The Code: The Brandreth Diaries: Westminster Diaries, 1992-97 Phoenix paperback 2000 – with Gerald Scarfe cover above – S/h copies available.