Tug Of War

A Grown Up Caucasian Chalk Circle……….The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

…………… Tom Rob Smith’s thriller is in a sense a modern and adult-centred version of Brecht’s classic ‘chalk circle’. This time, Daniel a 29 year old man is put into the circle between his mother and father – on one side his father claims his mother has started to suffer delusions while on the other his mother claims his father is lying to cover up his tracks at the centre of a criminal plot involving kidnap and murder. In this case, the push and pull is driven by the clever and incredibly powerful question – in a war between your parents who would you trust most? Who would you believe?

Chalk Circle

The main narrative follows Daniel a 29 year old man living in London with his partner Mark. His life is relatively sheltered – Mark essentially protects Daniel practically, emotionally and financially. He’s taken over that role from Daniel’s parents, who have fairly recently emigrated to Sweden, the land of Daniel’s mother Tilde’s birth and childhood. In Daniel’s world everything is calm, ordered and even until walking home one day with his groceries he gets a call on his mobile and his father tells him his mother is ill, suffering from some form of mental illness and illusions. Daniel recovers just enough to

photo (72) get himself ready to fly to Sweden the next day but before he can board the flight he gets another call from Sweden, this time from his mother. She tells him there’s nothing wrong with her and alleges instead that his father Chris has engineered her supposed breakdown to cover up his role as part of a group who are kidnapping, sexually abusing, and then killing young teenage girls.

Daniel waits for his mother in London and from that point on the story is told in the form of Tilde unfolding her story to Daniel, complete with her bag of evidence to support her allegations, mixed in with Daniels reflections not only on what he hears, but on his family story, his parents relationships with him and with one another, and his own life.

It was less like normal speech, more like words unleashed. Sentences dammed up in my mum’s mind came tumbling out, fast but never uncontrolled. She was right: she didn’t sound like herself – her voice was elevated, as strange as it was impressive. At times she sounded judicial, at other times intimate. ………It was a performance more than a conversation……….”

The story which unfolds forces Daniel into making a choice – is his mother Tilde, who he has known all his life so far to be sensible, practical and resolute, now suffering from paranoid delusions? Or is his father Chris, a man who he knows as gentle, quiet, and easy-going, part of a gang of men engaged in the systematic sexual abuse of young women and a man prepared ultimately to cover up and lie about his part in a conspiracy to murder? Whatever he chooses, with his mother trying to pull him one way and his father trying to pull him another, Daniel knows there will be no going back and nothing will ever be the same again.

If I hadn’t been afraid before I was afraid now. On some level I must have been hoping that a simple resolution could be found in this room, between the two of us, without involving doctors or detectives – a quiet end, a soft landing and a gentle return to our lives as they had been. However my mum’s energies were so agitated that she was either very ill or something truly terrible had taken place in Sweden to provoke them.

This is a story made up in some ways of a lot of smaller stories which are all brilliantly combined. At times those stories within stories are used to provide context and understanding such as the story of Tilde and Chris’ business or Tilde’s childhood in Sweden. At other times they seem to spiral off at a tangent before they are spun back into the narrative. The characterisation is strong in Tilde and Daniel, though for me the character of Chris didn’t come through quite as well. But in some respects it didn’t have to because the core bond in the family is son to mother and as the book progresses it’s clear that will either tighten further or unravel completely.

The most effective part of the book is the way Tom Rob Smith delicately balances your reactions as a reader – there are times when you think that Tilde’s story is the wild imaginings of a woman whose mind has spiralled out of control but there are just as many times when you think she’s completely sane and believe her story as it unfolds. And that’s the real joy in reading this for at the same time as you read about Daniel’s thoughts and reactions to Tilde’s story and you wonder who he will choose to believe, you can’t help but do the same for yourself. And I can pay it no higher compliment than to say that right to the end, I was in a compete quandary about whether or not I’d choose to believe Chris or Tilde!

‘The Farm’ is a cracking read. At the time of Tom Rob Smith’s first novel ‘Child 44′, he essentially elevated thriller fiction to a new level with his Booker nomination. His books since then have been good but not quite at the heady heights of that debut novel. But for me, ‘The Farm’ is absolutely as good as ‘Child 44′. It’s a brilliantly plotted, taut, tense thriller that really does hook you in to the last page but makes you think throughout. Will it get a Booker nomination? Well I doubt it, especially with the extension of the prize bringing it within the scope of American authors. But if it does make the long-list next week, I’d be delighted to see it there and would judge it as an accolade that ‘The Farm’ richly deserves!

 Book Info

“The Farm” by Tom Rob Smith was published by Simon and Schuster. It’s probably a book I’ll treasure for a long time because it was bought for me by my daughter – no special occasion – just because she thought I’d like it (and she was right!!)

I had been looking forward to reading the ‘The Farm’ mainly on the strength of how much I enjoyed Tom Rob Smith’s first book ‘Child 44′. However I was further tempted by a review of it I read at Savidge Reads. 

Then while walking the dog afew weeks ago, I listened to a Guardian Podcast about crime fiction which includes a section on Tob Rob Smith

 

Book Rating Out of 10 (you can find info on my Rating Scale here)

ten

 

Capture

Troy Story 3 – No Troy Gets Left Behind!……….The Last Days Of Troy by Simon Armitage

I am a fan of Troy Story. In Troy Story One, Homer’s The Iliad, I first fell for the magic of the all-powerful Achilles and his friendship with Patroclus which begat the most destructive revenge over Hector and the Trojans, neatly shrouded by THAT face which did so much for ship building! For Troy Story 2, it was the beautiful, haunting and wonderful Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller which I read last year. I didn’t think I did love stories. But the love between Achillies and Patroculus in this book was a joy to set my old alpha-male heart aglow! And now Troy Story 3 is here in the text of this new play, The Last Days of Troy by the poet Simon Armitage, again giving a different approach to the same story of Achilles, Patroclus, Agamemnon, Helen, Paris, Hector and that wooden horse.

 

photo (75)The Last Days Of Troy essentially takes the 15 000 or so lines of The Iliad and it’s 100’s of characters and condenses it into an 8 Act Play of about a dozen key players. In purely mathematical terms that’s a challenge in itself but Armitage carries it off with a style that borders on panache at times and with a dialogue that crackles and fizzes throughout. It opens with a modern day Zeus and Hera reduced to playing the role of metallic-painted statue impersonations of their god-like selves replete with cardboard sign proclaiming ‘Zeus’ and a tin cup to collect tourist coins! They use the model soldier and Greek God souvenir trinkets they sell to play out the initial movements of the war and to act as a link between the modern-day site of what’s believed to have been Troy and the action of the myths. It’s a very clever and effective approach.

But it’s when Simon Armitage’s play goes back to the war itself, to the Greek-Trojan rivalries and to the in-fighting on either side of the war, that the dialogue is at its best. The enmity and loathing between Achilles and Agamemnon drips off the page. On listening to the scheming string-pulling Odysseus making an offer of a daughter of Agamenon in marriage as part of resolving his quarrel with Achilles, his response is pretty…..er……………em…………….unequivocal!

“As for marrying into his family……..I wouldn’t mix my blood with his if his daughters were the last three cunts on earth. I’d fuck a dead animal first. Tell him that. Word for word.”

The mutual hatred between Achilles and Agamemnon is much more at the core of this version of the story than the love between Achilles and Patroclus is in ‘Song Of Achilles’. Even so…..on the death of his friend at the hands of Hector, Achilles vengeance is a fearful,all-conquering (except for that bloody heel!) and terrifying unleashing of a killing machine.

ACHILLES: Gifts or no gifts, all I want is Hector dead, and every Trojan that stands between his throat and this blade
AGAMEMNON: It’s what we all want. We want the same thing!
ACHILLES: And anyone who loves Hector – family or friend- to be broken and beaten, one at a time, so pain and torture are passed along to the last man, woman or child. Stripped out – right to the root.

Troy 4

There is so much to like and love in this as a play, that I’d love to see it. It ran at the Royal Exchange in Manchester ( the purpose for which it was partly written) with the model and actress Lily Cole as that face!!!! The dynamic between the lovers, Paris and Helen, Hector and Andromache is much more integral to the play than in either of the books I read and I thought it was much stronger for that. There’s a kind of inverted Macbeth and Lady Macbeth feel to some of the exchanges. In fact the strength of the women, and the barely concealed contempt and mistrust between Helen and Andromache, means that the role of the women in this tragedy is much more centre stage and again I think that’s a real strength of this telling of the story.

I wouldn’t think there will be too many people who’ll read this or watch the play who don’t know the story of Troy. But it’s still fresh and engaging and littered with brilliant one-liners that in some ways work even better BECAUSE it’s a play. They are short, pithy, sharp and they hit home brilliantly. And sometimes, it’s hard hitting for what’s not said…………!

Agamemnon is studying maps of the campaign. Odysseus enters.
AGAMEMNON: Say something positive or say nothing at all.
Odysseus doesn’t respond.
AGAMEMNON:Speak!
ODYSSEUS: Worse than yesterday. Disease…….fever………….

Above all, even though this is a play, it’s a great read as a book because it’s a great story, with such incredibly powerful characters and it’s brilliantly told. I have to confess I think Simon Armitage is a genius having loved his previous works like Gawain, and The Morte d’Arthur. Even allowing for that, as with the film franchise, Simon Armitage’s play has much to live up to in this re-telling of such a classic and timeless story. I can’t praise it more than to say Troy Story 3 is every bit as great as it’s illustrious predecessors. Or as someone much more erudite than me might have said, this will help ensure the story of Achilles and Troy goes……

“To infinity and beyond!”

Book Info

Simon Armitage’s The Last Days Of Troy was published by Faber and Faber. I bought my copy with my own hard-earned dosh.

There don’t seem to be many other blog reviews of the Last Days of Troy as a book around but I did find this review that I liked of the performance of it as play at Gerryco23.

The play ran at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester during May and June of this year. I missed it. Drat! It also ran during June at The Globe in London. I missed it. Double drat!!!!! 

Book Rating Out of 10 (you can find info on my Rating Scale here)

Nine

 

crimescene_07ds

The Most Pointless And Irrelevant Book Review Ever……………….The Cuckoo Calling by Robert Galbraith

………..I was born several weeks premature. As a result I was apparently pretty sick, jaundiced and just generally I had a miserable start to life. My mother reckons it was a telling moment – having been early for that very first thing in life, it was such an awful experience for me, my subconscious decided never to take the risk of being early for anything ever again!!! And I’ve stuck to that. 50 years on I’ve been Clocklate for virtually everything in my life and continue to be late! I’m perennially late for meetings at work. I’m late for family and friend’s birthdays. I’m late for journeys. I’m late for appointments. If I could, I’d find a way to be late at being late – and I’d be late in finding it!!!! And, apart from perhaps trying to get a little bit of sympathy with the ‘very-sick-as-baby’ line, I need to write all of this to justify why I’m SO SO SO late in getting round to reading The Cuckoo Calling by Robert Galbraith, I’m the very last person in the world to actually read it!!!! And as a result this is a pointless review because I’m about to recommend a cracking book when in reality there’s nobody left on the planet who hasn’t read and reviewed it before me!!!!!

Fortuitously though, being used to being late helps here. In being constantly late, I get frequent abuse, especially from family and colleagues!!! So I’ve developed a thick skin. And that thick skin means I don’t care that I’m writing this review for absolutely no-one – I’m going to write it anyway because I don’t want to deprive myself of the chance to say in capital letters – THIS IS A GREAT STORY!

Cuckoo CallingI know you know all this but I’m going to remind you anyway that the story follows a private detective, Cormoran Strike, a typical, hard-nosed, down-at heel private investigator who would grace any 1940’s Raymond Chandler or Dashiel Hammet novel. Except Cormoran is a modern-day equivalent, an ex-Army investigator, invalided out on losing a leg in Afghanistan. Down to his last few pence, sleeping in his office chair, and only getting calls and letters from creditors, he gets hired to investigate the already coroner-confirmed death by suicide of a famous model, Lula Landry. Her distraught half-brother, John, won’t accept she killed herself so he hires Strike to prove not only that she didn’t commit suicide but also to find out who killed her.

It’s just classic ‘gum shoe’ from start to finish. Strike is clever but flawed as every good detective should be! He’s observant, sharp, honest, and personable, but he leaves in his wake the detritus of near-bankruptcy, a doomed engagement and a childhood as the unwanted offspring of a 70’s rock star father and a drug-addled rootless, groupie mother! He’s a man who invokes respect, love, fear and loathing in equal measure – not that he really notices most of the time! But there’s an underlying softer side to Strike too, which comes through for example in his determination to defend the weak and in his growing admiration for his young, recently-hired temporary assistant Robin. There’s something almost chivalrous in his approach to her. In the hero stakes he’s part Phillip Marlowe and part Sir Gawain from the Knights Of The Round Table!

In addition to the characterisation of Strike, the other characters are all strong, believable and well drawn. The plot is great. It’s a brilliant did-anyone-do-it-and-if-anyone-did-do-it-whodunit?!!!!! It’s well paced, intriguing and with a really good ending. Along with reading it, I listened to the audio-book version narrated magnificently by Robert Glenister. He gets every aspect of Cormoran Strike spot on and so it adds a texture and richness to what is already a really good detective story.

Robert Glenister now IS Cormoran Strike to me!
Robert Glenister now IS Cormoran Strike to me!

Robert Galbraith is clearly a writer of some talent. Given that this is his debut novel it’s spectacular for a very first book. In fact as you read it, you can’t help thinking that this is so good, it’s difficult to comprehend he’s never written a book before!!!!!! Bizarre and ridiculous as it sounds, if I didn’t know better, I’d say this was the work of an authorial superstar……..a sort of ‘if Charles Dickens or JK Rowling wrote crime fiction’…….but of course that’s ridiculous because Charles isn’t with us any more and JK only does wizards!!!!!! And anyway I don’t want to start any rumours. Mind you, if it were true and it was someone like JK I’d have been the first on the planet to spot it and finally be early for once – or perhaps to be more accurate, twice!!!!!!!!!!

Book Info

The Cuckoo Calling was written by Robert Galbraith, whoever he is!. It was published by Sphere Books. The audio book is narrated by Robert Glenister and was produced by Hachette Audio.

I bought the book with my own hard earned dosh and bought the audio-book from iTunes.

2014-Audio-Challenge

I listened to the audio-book as part of an audio-book challenge and you can find out more about that here.

Book Rating Out of 10 (you can find info on my Rating Scale here)

Nine

Boots

He’s Got Great Feet For A Big Man!

Germany Soccer Euro 2008………………..In the last 4 weeks there have been only two kinds of people in the world – there are either pigs in doo-dah or there are Les Miserables! Because of course we either been loving every second of or dreading every second of…. the World Cup. I read a really good “early goal” post about the World Cup blues on Annabel Reads. And I have sympathy for Annabel and other people who perhaps haven’t come to appreciate why God put us on planet Earth with “The Beautiful Game”. But I’ve not got that much sympathy because, of course I’m one of those pigs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The papers are talking about possibly the best World Cup ever………….. Brazil have suddenly something in common with Scotland fans – they know how it feels to be really, really, really, bad! Then, in addition to Germany scoring 2 679 345 goals in only 2.4 seconds of the first half of their game against Brazil (now that I think of it perhaps Brazil were, for at least 45 minutes, actually WORSE than Scotland!)…………….we had James Rodriguez from Colombia and Tim Cahill from Australia scoring such breathtaking goals they got me out of my chair leaping around in a manner last seen when David Narey thundered Scotland in front against Brazil in Spain 1982! (when Scotland bossed the supposed best-team in the world for almost………………………………..90 seconds! Softening them up for Germany to batter them 32 years later really!). Even the misunderstanding between Luis Suarez and FIFA can’t spoil it. Though I admit to being baffled – I mean Suarez has accidentally lost his balance, fallen over and sunk his teeth into a big Italian’s shoulder purely to save himself falling over – how could FIFA or anyone else think he’d bitten the guy deliberately?

Suarez3

But of course the World Cup isn’t without its down side – time I’d previously have used to read books on the Tube is spent reading reports on matches. Time I’d previously have spent at home reading books is spent watching matches, listening to pundits talk about matches I’ve just watched, listening to pundits talking about matches I’m just about to watch, and listening to pundits talking about what the other pundits talked about! Time I’d previously have spent listening to audio-books and book podcasts is spent on listening to matches or listening to people talking about watching matches. In short I’ve got World Cup Fever bad!

So, with only two games left to go before it ends, I wanted to celebrate the joyous high that this World Cup has been for me, and of course to begin my programme of acclimatisation for the fact that I’ll be coming down from my World Cup high imminently, (you’ve got to plan ahead for these things!). So I thought I’d write about books again. Okay, they might be football books – but they’re still books (sort of). So here’s my World Cup Guide to some of the football books I’ve read over the years and as part of this helpful guide I’ve grouped them under some well-known football terms (of course if you’ve no idea what the terms mean then you’ll have no idea what they’re about – but I have to be up front here, that’s your fault for not taking an interest in God’s Chosen Game rather than mine!!)

“HE’S GOT GREAT FEET FOR A BIG MAN”

photo (63)Niall Quinn – The Autobiography

This is a really well written account of the life and times of the big Irish centre forward but of course what really made it a riveting read was the Big Man’s account of the famous row between Ireland’s best player Roy Keane and Ireland’s then manager Mick McCarthy at the 2002 World Cup. Quinn describes Keane delivering to McCarthy “the most articulate, the most surgical slaughtering I’ve ever heard. Mick McCarthy is dismantled from A to Z – his personality, his play, his style, his tactics, his contribution. On it goes”. (I will stop at this point as it is starting to sound depressingly like my appraisal at work for last year!)

Equally impressive is the fact that Quinn describes how he fronts up with support for McCarthy afterwards and has the balls to tell Roy Keane to his face. Mind you when Keane’s book came out later his account suggested that Quinn might have been a bit overly lavish with his recollection of his own bravery and chutzpah! Still, it can’t have been easy either way as Roy Keane would be first equal as the one man in football I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of – and I’d put him first equal in the “might not live to tell the tale stakes” with none other than Mick McCarthy! This is truly the ultimate definition of between a rock and a hard place! So for this – and lots of other stuff, Niall Quinn has good feet for a big man!

“HE’S GOT A GREAT ENGINE – A BOX TO BOX MIDFIELDER”

photo (65)Keane – My Autobiography

Keane – one of the best mid fielders I’ve ever seen and an awesome leader on the park! This tells the other side of the McCarthy story as you’d expect – but it’s much more than that. Yes of course it tells of the usual rise of the great player but this book is straight down the middle – Keane is pretty uncompromising with just about anything and anyone in this book (well except for himself perhaps in places). His side of the McCarthy row is less detailed on the specific wording of the slaughtering he hands out to McCarthy and more about what led up to it and why. And as he did on the pitch, he doesn’t hold back. And it’s not just McCarthy who gets the treatment. Take for example his perspective, softened, reflected on and so mellowed over time, on his infamous tackle on Alf Inge-Haaland (see below!!!!!)

“I’d waited long enough. I f****** hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you ****! And don’t ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries.”

Moral of the story – Roy’s not a man you want to cross in a hurry. But he was a bloody wonderful footballer and like him or loathe him (and I’m in the like camp), he’s a mesmerising personality – and the book does him justice!

“THE BOY’S GOT A SWEET LEFT FOOT!”

The Title Might Of Course Be Ironic - As Might The Cover Photo?.................Mmmmmm.........Maybe Not!David Ginola – Le Magnifique – The Autobiography

I guess when you see that a footballer gives his autobiography the sub-title ‘le magnifique’ you should know what to expect! Unless they are a master of irony, it’s highly likely to be a one-dimensional “look at me, look at me, look at me!” sort of story – and that’s exactly what the Ginola book is!

David Ginola was a great footballer but not the best footballer ever. He may however have been the best-looking footballer ever! But even that doesn’t justify this self-indulgent nonsense of a book! While he does give a bit of a kicking to Alan Shearer and Kenny Dalglish (and as a Man Utd fan it’s always welcoming to see someone get stuck into those two!), on the whole this is essentially a story about what an amazing guy David Ginola is and how he saved the modern world. There’s a bit of a generalisation that football biographies are dull and vain – while that’s not always true, in this case it sadly is absolutely an example of vanity and banality on a monumental scale!! If the football biography was ever on trial for crimes against literature, this book would be a star witness for the prosecution! Here’s David giving his modest, self-effacing and open-minded assessment of his time at Tottenham (though admittedly the pathetic parenthesis are all my own work!)

 I was the lifebelt of the club (Impressive use of metaphor there David!), keeping it afloat during the times that it was in deep water (see what he did there – kept the disaster at sea analogy going! – perhaps the audio-book is sung by Celine Dion in Titanic-diva mode?!); I entertained the fans during the relegation struggle (could be me Dave but I think ‘entertain’ and ‘relegation struggle’ might just be a contradiction in terms…..?), then I gave them more and helped the team win a trophy (lovely bit of false modesty to finish cos what David really means is I won it single-handed and this is all the thanks I got!)

Unless you fancy him – and even I can admit he’s beautiful to look at – avoid! Even if you do fancy him – make it easy for yourself – just look at the pictures!

“THE BOY’S GOT A SWEET RIGHT FOOT!”

photo (69)Garrincha – The Triumph And Tragedy Of Brazil’s Forgotten Footballing Hero by Ruy Castro

A confession. I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard anybody talk about a sweet RIGHT foot – it’s always left. But I’m pretending it’s a well-worn football phrase to give me an excuse to include Ruy Castro’s brilliant biography of Garrincha. It’s the classic rags-to-riches (and sadly back to rags again) story of a boy who rose from the poverty of rural Brazil to dominate the 1958 World Cup Final in Sweden. The book looks at his talent, his place in the emerging great Brazilian teams of the 50’s and 60’s and his almost larger-than-life world away from football. Garrincha was really the first of those footballers who are talented genius on the park but tortured soul off the park. The book is certainly a tribute to Garrincha’s talent and humanity, but Castro doesn’t shy away from Garrincha’s faults and excesses either. And if the football biography was ever put on trial for those crimes against literature that I mentioned above………………….. this book would be the star witness for the defence!

“YES BUT CAN HE DO IT ON A COLD WET WEDNESDAY NIGHT IN STOKE?”

photo (71)Left Foot Forward – A Year In The Life Of A Journeyman Footballer by Garry Nelson

photo (70)Left Foot In The Grave – A View From The Bottom Of The Football League by Garry Nelson

I have included this cliché for three reasons – firstly if you have ever been to Stoke on a wet, cold Wednesday night – and I have – you’ll know that it isn’t the easiest place to do ‘it’ – whether ‘it’ is playing football or as in my case trying to cheer my family up on the first night of a three night mid-week “break” to Alton Towers, staying in Stoke (and to put that in context we gave up the other two nights and left the next day!). Secondly it gives me a chance to write about Garry Nelson, ex-Charlton footballer and how I am convinced he once lived in the same block of flats as me in Essex – that’s as close as I get to rubbing shoulders with the great and the good. And thirdly, it allows me to write about his two football books, which in my humble opinion are among the most entertaining and enjoyable football books I’ve ever read!

Left Foot Forward charts his career of course but in particular it’s a warts and all look at professional football, when you don’t quite hit the heady heights of stardom and the Premier League. This is also crucially a wonderful look behind the scenes – and in indeed behind the eyes of professional football. It peers into the fears and worries of players, whether it’s injury, dressing room politics, form or whether the manager “fancies” them or not!  In Nelson’s case it’s also got the additional perspective of a man approaching 34, in what will probably be the last season of his professional career reflecting not only on what was and what might have been but what might lie ahead in the decidedly dodgy future of most ex-pros. It’s open, honest and frequently very witty.

Sunday 13 November

The thirteenth. Maybe bad news for Charlton that today’s game is being televised. There’s a TV jinx on us. In our last eleven ‘live’ appearances we’ve not recorded a single win. The last time we won under the glassy-eyed stare of a live TV camera may well have been the 1947 FA Cup Final! My own most memorable contribution to a televised game was earning my one and only sending-off. It was for extending to an official a free and frank appraisal of his competence – all from entertaining the civilised desire to indicate how he might best further his career! But salt is still rubbed in my wound nearly every week because Yellow Pages feature the incident in one of their commercials! Thankfully my comments of a somewhat technical nature have been over-dubbed!

photo (70)The follow-up book is just as good. In Left Foot In The Grave Nelson describes the next part of his career when he leaves Charlton for the job of player coach to Torquay United, a club who frequently bounce around the lower echelons of the football league, and occasionally out of the Football League altogether! I’ve read many football manager books in my time – Sir Alex is of course the pinnacle for me but this description of the trials, tribulations, madness and moments of relief (though they are few and far between at Torquay!) at the less-glamorous end of the football management business is a fabulous read for anybody interested in the game.

The Football Version of Bullshit Bingo - courtesy of Talksport
The Football Version of Bullshit Bingo – courtesy of Talksport

 

So there you have my list of 5 bloody good and one bloody awful football biographies. Or to put that another way – the Garry Nelson books are the Man Utd and Man Utd Reserves of the Football Biography World, the Garrincha book would be Barcelona (best on continental Europe), the Roy Keane book would be Greenock Morton (easily the best team in….well…….Greenock!), the Niall Quinn book would be Everton (easily the best team in Liverpool) and of course the Ginola book would be on the absolute rock bottom of the heap – where you’ll always find my beloved family’s Liverpool F.C. for me!

And as they are the favoured team of my family, and as the women in my life take their football, and their support for the Liverpool team very, very, very, seriously, I’m now leaving to go into hiding in a remote South American monastery wearing a balaclava and a face-lift!

And finally here’s Roy letting Mr Haaland know he’s not forgotten he once called him a rude name (please watch from the safety of behind your sofa!)

Book Info

When I write a post like this I tend to assume pretty much anyone who might be inclined to read my blog won’t be inclined to read about football biographies – so it’s that odd feeling of writing it for yourself! It’s kind of nice – worrying, but nice!

All the books mentioned were bought with my own money – mind you a few might have been presents but you get the idea!

The Autobiography by Niall Quinn was published by Headline Books in 2002

Left Foot Forward by Garry Nelson was published by Headline Books in 1995

Left Foot In The Grave by Garry Nelson was published by Collins Willow in 1997

Garrincha, The Triumph and Tragedy of Brazil’s Forgotten Footballing Hero was published by Yellow Jersey Press in 2004

Le Magnifique by David Ginola was published by Collins Willow in 2000

The Autobiography by Roy Keane was published by Michael Joseph/Penguin Books in 2002

 

Cantona

The Book Most Likely To…………………….Win The World Cup!

Warning – There is absolutely no point whatsoever to these “Book Most Likely To” posts like the one which follows, so if you choose to read on, you do so entirely at your own risk – you eejit!

These posts originated with an advert I saw on the Tube for a film called ‘The Girl Most Likely To’. From the poster I think it was a comedy-thingy about the difference between what the characters would have seemed destined for and how they actually turned out over time. So for example the one most likely to be a stay-at-home mum became a gambling addict or whatever – you get the idea.

girl_mostlikely_quad#13.indd

Night before last, I was a bit Desperado to get home to see the Argentina v Holland World Cup Semi-Final. Alas so was everyone else and the Tube was rammed! So, I was a man searching for distraction from the fact that I was cream-crackered and shoehorned onto the Central Line next to a man with Olympic-class halitosis and in front of someone who seemed intent on shoving their walking stick up my arse! And what better distraction, and what better way to get myself psyched up for the football than to cogitate on books that might have been World Cup Winners!

So the idea is to think of connections in some form or other between book titles you know and the World Cup! Alas there are no prizes for the best suggestion – however I can promise to take any good or funny idea you suggest and quite shamelessly pass it off as my own!!!

So here are my suggestions, (accompanied here and there by images of World Cup Subbuteo Art depicting some infamous World Cup Moments) inspired by the Central Line on a World Cup Second Semi-Final Wednesday Night, for……..

THE BOOK MOST LIKELY TO GROW UP TO BE A WORLD CUP WINNER!

L’Argent-ina by Emile Zola

Ger-Man In Havana by Graham Greene

The Ballad of Reading Goal by Oscar Wilde

Zidane Gently Wakes Italian Defender by Headbutt To The Chest - As You Do!
Infamy! Infamy! They’ve All Got It Infamy Number 1! Zinedine Zidane Headbutts Italian Defender Following Rude Comments About His Granny Or Something! – Shameful!

Mr Messi by Roger Hargreaves

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat-trick by Oliver Sachs

Inafmy! Infamy!
Infamy! Infamy! They’ve All Got It Infamy Number 2! Suarez has a gentle Chianti and Fava Bean moment with a different Italian Defender! Very Shameful!

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pele Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Schaffer

The Maradona Of The Almonds by Marina Fiorato

Infamy! Infamy!
Infamy! Infamy! They’ve All Got It Infamy Number 3! Nigel De Jong Leads The Unusual Dutch Tactic Of Kicking Spaniards In The Head At South Africa 2010 World Cup Pseudo-Thai Boxing Final! Exceptionally Shameful!

Journey To The Centre Forward Of The Earth by Jules Verne

The Goldfinch by MaraDonna Tartt

The Silkworm – Cormoran Striker by Robert Galbraith

Infamy! Infamy!
Infamy! Infamy! They’ve All Got It Infamy Number 4! One Of The Darkest Days In Scottish History! The English Get Help From A Blind Russian Linesman To Win The World Cup Of 1966! The Most Shameful Act In The History Of Football!

Def-Enders Game by Orson Scott Card

The Lighthouse (Goal)Keepers Lunch by David and Rhona Armitage (The Usual One For The Kids There!)

Infamy!
Infamy! Infamy! They’ve All Got It Infamy Number 5 – Diego Maradona Knocks The English Out In 1986 With “The Hand Of God” …………..Not That Shameful At All Really……………And Scotsmen Everywhere Are Avenged For 1966!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Buddha of Subbuteo by Hanif Kurieshi

A Tale Of Four-Four-Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Any Others??????????????

Book Info

Well of course there isn’t any!

But these brilliant art works depicting famous football moments in Subbuteo are by an artist called Terry Lee. I Love Them!!!! They are all over the web but I found most of them here at Football Geeza.

Robespierre

What WAS The Point Of Guillotining Louis XVI?!!!!!…………The Library Of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divry

‘Because the ranking in people’s heads gets reflected on the bookshelves. Budgets for buying new books are limited and the aristos get first pick. Us, the little folk, we come last. Crumbs from their table. It drives me mad. Archaic, irrational…..someone like me……In a basement like this…………what was the point of guillotining Louis XVI if you still end up with everyone looking down on you?’

photo (74)That question in the title doesn’t mean much out of context. But in the context of the fuller quote, it captures the essence of this clever, witty and entertaining novella by Sophie Divry. Within the labyrinthine pecking order of a French provincial library, the central character of the book muses on her place both inside it and outside it in the great library of life – she’s not quite on the bottom of the heap but she’s not far off it!!!! The story begins with our never-named librarian narrator arriving in her basement section of the library to find an equally never-named customer asleep, having been somehow locked in overnight. And so she begins to regale the customer with her views on the library, books, love, men and life, accompanied by her analysis of the French Revolution, culture and ‘the bastard’ who is the Mayor of their provincial town! And that’s all then wrapped up in her deconstruction of the Dewey System!!!!! For those of us who love books and reading it is probably irresistible. For the less obsessive reader though this might not sound that attractive a prospect – but it’s much better than the ‘Dewey system soliloquy from a provincial librarian’ description which I’ve just saddled it with! What raises the book up is that this is a librarian who’s on the edge but in the gentlest and most understated of ways – a ‘she’s got a Dewey system and she’s not afraid to use it’ sort of thing!‘ The librarian is by turns irritable, comical, insightful, sarcastic and love-struck! She’s frequently on the outskirts of mad and she’s always on the verge of ready-to-cry – but you’re never quite sure whether they’ll be tears of love-lorn sorrow or pent-up frustrations! Throughout the book there are only a few people who merit a name and the most important of those are Robespierre and a library user called Martin. She’s secretly and from a distance in love with one of them, and as……………

“….I realised it was the back of his neck that had captivated me, right from the start. Because is there anything more fascinating about a person than a beautiful neck seen from behind? The back of the neck is a promise, summing up the whole person through their most intimate feature.”

……well you can tell it’s not Robespierre she’s in love with because all that neck admiration would be an irony too far!!!!!! There’s something very sweet and yet desperately sad in her distanced longings and imaginings about Martin – and that’s one of the keys to this book. It’s full of sharp observations and it is beautifully balanced throughout – she’s just quirky enough to make her funny but believable, she’s just in love enough to make her sad but not pathetic, she’s just serious enough to be engaging but never dull – and at times she’s very, very, funny.

“Not all the classifications are equal……French Literature and History: they’re the blue blood…….on the same level you get the High Society of Philosophy and Religion…..the minor gentry in Foreign Languages…..the bourgeoisie of periodicals and magazines: all mouth and no action…….the Children’s section-let’s call it the lower clergy…….the open shelves with CDs and DVDs, they’re the nouveaux riches. But even lower down comes the proletariat: Science, Geography, IT……”

And guess who’s in charge of the Geography section?! The Library Of Unrequited Love is a very enjoyable and very entertaining read – and it’s not just for those of us who are bibliophiles! If you love a soap opera- you’ll find that here in her unrequited love for Martin interrupted by the petty-mindedness of senior colleagues or the ignorance of the general public. If you love scandal, you’ll find a scathing little vignette on Jean-Paul Sartre’s treatment of Simone de Beaviour that does a hatchet job on the great man in only a few lines that any tabloid hack would be proud of! This is a quick, easy read – the kind of thing you’ll devour in one gulp with ease. But it’ll leave you feeling very satisfied afterwards!

Or As The Librarian Of Unrequited Love Might Have Said - "Bit Of A Shit Really!"
Or As The Librarian Of Unrequited Love Might Have Called Him – “Bit Of A Shithead Really!”

Book Info

Sophie Divry’s “The Library Of Unrequited Love” was translated by Sian Reynolds and published here by the wonderfully named MacLehose Press. I bought it with my own hard-earned dosh!

There are tons of reviews of it elsewhere so you don’t need me to point you to any in particular. But I will anyway. There’s one at Bride Of The Book God which I chose because it’s a very recent review and because we Scots in London need to stick together!!!! But inside my edition the cover includes quotes from Savidge Reads and Vulpes Libres blogs so you can easily find them too!! 

Book Rating Out of 10 (you can find info on my Rating Scale here)

eight

Scattered Things and Changing Skies……………….1914 Poetry Remembers Edited by Carol Ann Duffy

photo (73)The First World War was the most defining moment of the Twentieth Century for me. However I know that’s open to debate given the Second World War, the atomic bomb, the invention of the computer, the fall of the Berlin Wall and other iconic, defining moments. What I think is less debatable is the uniqueness of the way in which poets and writers were at the heart of providing the human perspective on that war. It was unique because while poets had of course written of previous wars, the legacy and impact on subsequent generations like mine seems much less. I’ve read much about other wars, other cataclysmic events but in the main they’re either fiction or historical analysis. Poets would of course continue to write of what they saw and experienced in wars after 1914-1918, but it’s always seemed to me that by 1939, the visual recording of what happened was on such a scale that the moving image tends to overshadow the written word of those poets. So what makes the First World War poets and writers unique to me is their crucial role in describing the human experience in the midst of such monumental carnage, mayhem and slaughter.

For 1914 Poetry Remembers, Carol Ann Duffy has asked a number of contemporary poets to select the piece of First World War poetry or writing which has most affected them and to write their response to it. It’s a beautifully simple idea which in the wrong hands, might easily have been little more than an anthology of First World War verse chosen by the great and the good of modern poets. Instead it’s a riveting, absolutely un-put-down-able collection which at turns will move you, anger you and make you despair about the human race and what we do, or more often, what we allow others to do, supposedly in our name. The new poems are as powerful as those written at the time and the different interpretations, reactions and connections by the modern poets give the collection a deeply personal and intimate feel.

Duffy herself bookends the collection with two pieces, both responding to Wilfred Owen, looking first at those initial first days of enlisting, responding to Owen’s ‘ The Send Off’ and ends with her poem ‘The Last Post’ which responds in part to Owen’s ‘ Dulce Et Decorum Est’ and which almost tries to unravel and reverse every aspect of War back to those initial footsteps post- enlisting. As the poem says

You lean against a wall,

your several million lives still possible

and crammed with love, work, children, talent, English beer, good food.

You see the poet tuck away his pocket book and smile.

If poetry could truly tell it backwards,
then it would.

World War 1

There is so much that is good, even great in this collection. Whenever I read poetry I always mark those poems that affect me, influence me, make me think or react strongly. In a collection of this size I’d normally expect to have marked out perhaps six to 10 poems that are special for me in some way. In this collection I marked out 36. I found I was particularly moved by those where there was some form of personal connection between the poet, the war and the verse they’d chosen. Jackie Kay’s poem ‘Bantam’, in response to Siegfried Sassoon’s ‘Survivors’ looks back through her words, to her father’s recollection of his fathers war experience.

It wisnae men they sent to war.
It wis boys like the Bantams
– wee men named efter
a small breed o’ chickens,
or later: a jeep, a bike, a camera.

Some of the work is incredibly moving and for different reasons. I read the wonderful Blake Morrison poem ‘Redacted’, written in response to Ewart MackIntosh’s equally powerful poem ‘Recruiting’ with such a sense of despair, anger and almost bewilderment. And for very different reasons I was moved to tears by the pieces from Edward and Helen Thomas. Edward Thomas tragic poem, ‘As The Team’s Head-Brass” is chosen by both Seamus Heaney and Julia Copus and it’s followed a few pages later by Helen’s account of Edward’s departure for the front in an excerpt from “World Without End”. I recently read Matthew Hollis’ brilliant “Now All Roads Lead To France”, his account of Edward Thomas’ last days, his life with Helen and with his best friend Robert Frost. So to read the Thomas poem, Helen’s account of his leaving and the modern responses to both pieces, all while I knew more of what lay ahead for Edward and Helen Thomas than either of them could have known when they wrote those words, was just desperately sad.

Throughout the collection, the selected pieces and the responses to them go from considering the almost incomprehensible scale of the loss of life to the equally incomprehensible degree of misery and suffering that soldiers and civilians experienced day to day. It of course makes you want scream and weep at the same time. But equally that’s perhaps the most powerful thing that the First World War poets and their modern counterparts do with this collection – because when poetry is as good as this, it makes you respond and react. I guess as a reader this is how we honour the sacrifice of those millions of young men and women who gave their lives. We remember them – and this collection does just that – beautifully.

first world war soldiers

Book Info

“1914 Poetry Remembers” was edited by Carol Ann Duffy and published by Faber and Faber.

Book Rating Out of 10 (you can find info on my Rating Scale here)

ten

The Sweet Science of Bruising……………..A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

Boxing……….In the early 19th Century, an English journalist and sportswriter, Pierce Egan, published a series of articles about bare-knuckle boxing. He called the sport “The Sweet Science of Bruising” but it’s a description which is perfect for Eimear MacBride’s much-lauded, prize-winning novel “A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing”. It’s a novel which if it was a boxer would be a Southpaw counter-puncher – it comes at you in ways you don’t expect and it catches you unawares time after time! A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing is to modern fiction what bare-knuckle fist fights are to the Marquis-of-Queensbury-ruled boxing – this is the savage and fucking hard-hitting end of the genre. It’s as hard to read physically as it is to come to terms with emotionally – and it’s absolutely brilliant.

photo (60)A young woman who remains unnamed tells the story of her childhood, adolescence and early adulthood in a family scarred by the dark clouds which her brothers childhood brain tumour casts over them. Within the confines of the family home the relationship between her and her brother is the barrier to their mothers worst excesses of verbal and physical assaults caused by her coming to terms with her son’s illness, her absent husband, the bitter legacy of her own childhood and the narrow moral straight jacket of Irish Catholicism. Outside the family home that relationship with her brother and the effect of that childhood illness are the cause of much tension, angst, confusion and danger for her. Yet for all that the outside world exerts immense pressure on the relationship between the brother and sister it remains the constant reference point in her life. Her adolescence is twisted and shattered by her rape at the hands of her uncle. Then as a young woman, she begins life as a student in the city. Fully unleashed from the physical and emotional confines of life with her mother and brother, she can only manage that freedom with a crashing lurch into drunken promiscuous sex and an emotionally detached craving for sexual degradation and abuse.

The 18th Century equivalent of "Come and Have A Go If You Think You're Hard Enoug
The 18th Century equivalent of “Come and Have A Go If You Think You’re Hard Enough

So for the narrative alone this is demanding stuff for any reader. But the style throughout is a form of broken and fragmented stream of consciousness. It’s a concoction of spoken words, feelings, feelings about those feelings, actions and reactions. In the first few chapters where she remembers her life as a small child, I mistakenly read the style at this point as a very clever portrayal of how a young child thinks – it’s unstructured, erratic, lacks logical flow and it’s impossible to predict. It was only as I read on that I realised that this would continue right to the end. And as her experiences become darker,more traumatic and harrowing it fits it so well – but it’s still bloody hard work to read.

I’ll jump the bath when she has me. Running with my headful of shampoo shouting no Mammy no no no. Cold chest where water hits windscreen belly in the rain. Down those stairs fast as I can. Shampoo on my forehead. In my eyes. Nettle them. Mammy. Yelling Lady you come back or you’ll get what for. A mad goat I’ll be. Rubbing bubbles. Worse and worse and hotter like mints I’ll turn my nose at.

Much has been written elsewhere about the structure and style of the book. At times I just couldn’t quite decipher it – and we’re not talking a sentence here and there but whole paragraphs! But it never detracts from the narrative and for every time you literally can’t follow the words at all it actually makes you more engaged in the story rather than less. And for all that it might at times look like a jumble of words, they’re a beautifully put together jumble!

But more than the structure and style, what makes this book so hard hitting is the subject matter. I’d think an experienced author would need an exceptionally strong nerve and confidence to tackle these issues. The fact that this has been done, and been done brilliantly, by an author writing a debut novel is a stunning achievement. It’s a book that really does deserve all the praise it’s currently getting. Equally though it does make me wonder where Eimear McBride might go next. For all that I loved this and for all that I thought the structure was so right for the story, I wouldn’t want to read anything similar any time soon!

A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing is not a book for the faint-hearted. The language will pull you around and mess with you and the subject matter will pummel you from start to finish. But it’s a book that deserves your attention. The social activist Maggie Kuhn once said “Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes!”. In a way you need to apply that same principle when you read this – a sort of “Let your reading speak to your mind, even if your reading voice shakes violently!” – but if you do you will come away much the better for having done it – and in time of course those bruises will heal!

If you're going to win a prize - then the best sponsor is always alcohol!
And if I was an author and I was going to win a prize – then my preferred sponsor would definitely be alcohol! (Which is another way of saying, “What’s the chance of the Guinness Prize for Book Bloggers in Essex?”

Book Info

Eimear McBride’s “A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing” was first published by Galley Beggar Press and my paperback edition was published by Faber and Faber. I bought it with my own hard-earned dosh!

It won the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Irish Novel Of The Year Award. 

There are a million reviews of it at other blogs so you can pretty much take your pick. But I got the book after I read this review at Lonesome Reader back in April  – I added it to my wee list of books on my iPhone that I describe quaintly as the….”I’ll Shit Myself If I Don’t Read These!” list! It was well worth a place!

Book Rating Out of 10 (you can find info on my Rating Scale here)

ten

99% Perspiration, 1% Inspiration and Sadly It Shows!…….The Bones Beneath by Mark Billingham

Bones-BeneathAt the end of this book, Mark Billingham is effusive in his praise for Bardsey, a small remote island of the coast of North Wales, which is the setting for his latest Detective Inspector Tom Thorne novel. It’s a testimony to what does seem to be a magical, tranquil, beautiful place. Mark Billingham is clearly genuine in his warm and fond description of Bardsey as somewhere that is a haven of peace and solitude for artists and writers and as a result he describes it as a place that is inspirational. And I don’t doubt him that Bardsey is inspirational. But to me, you’ve got to take his word for it as there’s precious little evidence of that inspiration in what I thought was a very flat, dull, and really rather stilted crime novel.

From the outset I’m happy to nail my colours to the mast of Tom Thorne – I think he’s a great fictional detective creation and till now I’ve never read a Tom Thorne novel I didn’t love. So I tried really hard to like this book – but in the end I had to face the truth – I was massively disappointed by it. It’s really desperately poor.

It has an interesting premise at the beginning. Ordinarily, if it’s not too crude a generalisation, a detective novel lays the crime out early in the book and you then read through it to find out who did it and why. In The Bones Beneath you know from the first few pages who the perpetrator is – and you then read through it to find out what the crime will be. It should be clever and brilliant – instead, the book is pedestrian and a bit predictable.

The Bones Beneath brings back the character of Stuart Nicklen, who last appeared when Thorne caught him as the manipulative psychopathic half of a serial killing double act. Now serving life, Nicklen manipulates a grieving mother and the Met Police commanders with a shocking confession – years before as a teenager he murdered a fellow young offender and buried his body on the remote island of Bardsey, an island without electricity, phones, roads and only accessible by boat across a treacherous and unpredictable part of the sea. Nicklen offers to show them the burial place on one condition – the search has to be led by the reluctant D.I . Thorne, the man who put him behind bars. From the moment Nicklen is released to Thorne’s custody on the English mainland you know he’s got an ulterior motive and so does Thorne.

So the twist in the novel’s structure, and the fact that Bardsey really is as great a setting as Mark Billingham had envisaged it would be should have made this a great read. But it didn’t work for me because of the characterisation and the plot. The character of Nicklen simply isn’t interesting enough if he’s not actually committing evil acts – this book portrays his scheming, all arched eyebrows, double meanings and goading of Thorne, but rather than it being exciting, engaging or even horrifying, I just found Stuart Nicklen bloody irritating! The usual cast of supporting characters in Thorne novels like Russell Brigstock his immediate boss, Sergeant Dave Holland his murder squad side-kick, and Phil Hendricks his pathologist mate are always so strong but here the narrow plot and the isolated location work against that and they’re little more than also-rans. The twist in the story is weak, it’s too obvious and as a result the book struggles to build any tension. The story in the end just isn’t very interesting. Worst of all having persevered with the book, I thought the ending was truly dire. It’s trite, cliched and lacks any credibility for me.

As if I’ve not shamefully giving enough of a kicking to The Bones Beneath as a story, I can’t avoid seeming to kick it again while it’s down by also criticising the author beyond the writing. But I listened to the audio-book version of this as well as reading it. Mark Billingham chooses to narrate it himself and I thought he was pretty awful. His reading voice is simply not rich enough and lacks depth. He particularly struggles to read the dialogue. As an ex-teacher it just kept reminding me of the intonation and ‘sing-song’ style that some young children use when they’re first learning to read. It was that bad!

I recently had an exchange of comments about using a book rating scale where a fellow blogger rightly said that we ought to never really rate a book less than seven out of 10 – for if it’s less than that it’s really our fault for choosing it and our fault for finishing it. And in that spirit I’m happy to take the blame, because apart from this book, I love Tom Thorne and I think Mark Billingham is fantastic, second only to Ian Rankin in my favourite crime novelist list! So I’m sorry I made the mistake of continuing with a book I just didn’t enjoy. As a tourist guide and marketing brochure for Bardsey, this book does a decent job. But as an entertaining crime novel…………..? I’ll take a leaf from Stuart Nicklen and bury it in my mind, so that it doesn’t stop me loving Tom Thorne next time round!

Book Info

Mark Billingham’s The Bones Beneath was published by Little, Brown. I bought it with my own hard-earned dosh!

While I didn’t like this book, there are others who did. The opinion of Good Reads is a bit divided, but you’ll find much more positive reviews of the book at Milo’s Rambles and at Chris High

Book Rating Out of 10 (you can find info on my Rating Scale here)

three

Dead Man Walking……..To Bury The Dead by Ignacio Martinez de Pison

photo (59)Sometimes the weight of expectation can destroy your enjoyment of a book. You read countless reviews – you pick up numerous snippets about the story – you read a litany of quotes singing its praises – and so you start it confident you know what you’ll find. And then, when it doesn’t quite survive that giant wave of expectation, the book drowns and your chance of enjoying it goes down with it.

In the case of Ignacio Martinez de Pison’s “To Bury The Dead” however, I went into it knowing absolutely nothing about it. No reviews – no idea on plot – I didn’t even know it was actually non-fiction till I read the first page!!! And the absence of any expectations almost killed this book for me! For about two chapters or so into the subtleties of Trotskyist-anarchist v Stalinist-Marxist groups within the Republican forces of the Spanish Civil War (with the additional issue thrown in of the impending un-civil war between American left-wing literary heavyweights John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway) and I was thinking “Jesus! I didn’t sign up for this!!!” I was tempted to give up at that point! But I persevered and by chapter six I’d move from bemused to fascinated.

To Bury The Dead sets out to investigate and tell the story of what happened to a young Republican translator and academic, Jose Robles, who turns out to be a victim of one of the many atrocities of the Spanish Civil War. And in this case Robles doesn’t die at the hands of Franco’s Falangists, but at the hands of his supposed comrades. Jose Robles was on holiday from his teaching post at an American university, back in his native Barcelona, when the Civil War began. In spite of his Falangist family background Robles was a committed believer in the Republican cause. His literary and language skills saw him quickly installed as the interpreter for the leading Russian military leader in the Republican movement General Vladimir Gorev. But within a relatively short time the tables turned, Robles was arrested and disappeared. It was soon obvious, though not admitted initially by the Republicans, that he had been executed, supposedly for treason. In the absence of any credible explanations or evidence though, it’s apparent there are murkier motives leading to Robles execution. And ordinarily it might have stayed as just one of many unjust and unexplained executions. But Robles’ status as an American university staffer, and even more importantly his place as best friend of John Dos Passos, mean that this isn’t an execution that can simply be passed off as ‘treason’ and no questions asked.

The book in part recreates Dos Passos failed attempts over many years to discover who killed his friend and why. The other part of the story is a modern-day investigation into Robles’ death, with Martinez de Pison using papers and archive material not available to Dos Passos in the 40’s and 50’s. I won’t go any further into the story than to say that Robles is unwittingly a dead man walking from the moment he returns to Spain on holiday only weeks before the outbreak of Civil War.

As well as unravelling the story of who killed Robles and why, the book gives a terrifying though fascinating insight into the incredibly complex and sinister world of internal left-wing politics in the 30’s, their convoluted array of allegiances, relationships and splinter groups. And of course this is all wrapped up in the murky iron fist and the excessive paranoia of Joseph Stalin. It’s this that gives the book its ‘punch’ – you’re left looking at Robles death at the hands of his colleagues and thinking “If this is what they do to their friends…………..!”

The book isn’t the easiest of reads. For all the authors best efforts to unpick the labyrinth of who’s who and more importantly who’s scheming against who in the tangled web of Republican Spain, as well as back in Stalinist Moscow, it’s still a labyrinth. So it’s one of the books where I found myself going back almost as often as I read forwards! The style also waivers a bit for me.When it’s unravelling the clues on what happened to Robles or when it’s looking at the unravelling, and soon to be fairly toxic, friendship between Hemingway and Dos Passos, it’s a gripping read. But it frequently goes off in tangents – some of them are interesting in their own right but with others you’re left with a “what the hell was that about?” feel! The author himself seems to realise he’s going off down side streets (and the odd blind alley!) – at one point he starts a chapter with “But let’s return to the Civil War. Back to 1937″!

However in spite of the complexity and the tangents, this is a good read, especially if you are interested in the Spanish Civil War period. There’s a real passion and commitment to uncover the truth and some of the stuff you learn in the course of the book is shocking. I read Javier Cercas’ great Civil War novel ‘Soldiers of Salamis’ last year and Anthony Beevor’s “The Battle for Spain” the year before, and really enjoyed both, so it’s a period that fascinates me.

Yet this isn’t the kind of non-fiction you’d get from reading Beevor, though it’s clearly well researched and meticulously detailed. But Ignacio Martinez de Pison wears his heart and his values and beliefs on his sleeve – so this isn’t dispassionate detached non-fiction but quite the opposite. He has a bias and he’s not afraid to use it! I can see that this bias might put off some but I actually liked it. He clearly doesn’t have a high opinion of a number of Republican leaders who are essentially described as conniving opportunists or apologists. Even more strong though is he clearly takes sides in the Dos Passos v Hemingway war of words! He’s very much in the Dos Passos camp and Hemingway comes out of it as a man who I wouldn’t like to go for a beer with, in spite of his reputed love of a bar! And Martinez de Pison doesn’t spare other authors either – Stephen Koch’s book ‘Double Lives’, which explored the role of left-wing writers in the West in the propoganda war for Stalin gets what can only be described as “a bit of a kicking”!

At its heart though this is in essence a tragedy – for Robles, his wife and family and for the countless Spanish men and women who suffered similarly cruel fates at the hands of either Republicans or Fascists during the Civil War. And so it takes this personal story of Robles and through it remembers those who were killed and those whose lives were destroyed by war and politics. And of course if you look at the news today it’s still the same – so it’s something we should always be reminded of.

Everything Espana

I read this as part of my Everything Espana Reading Challenge which you can find at caffeinatedlife.net.

Book Info

Ignacio Martinez de Pison’s ‘To Bury The Dead’ was published Carnival Books. It was translated by Anne McLean. It won both the International Rodolfo Walsh Prize for Non-Fiction and the Dulce Chacon Prize for Spanish Narrative in 2006.

Like other books for my Everything Espana Challenge, I tracked it down through Waterstones Market Place.

I’ve not been able to find any info on Ignacio Martinez de Pison. I did find a short bio on a Spanish site Lecturalia, but of course it’s in Spanish! However if you’ve got a basic knowledge of the language and a half decent dictionary you’ll have no problem reading it! His latest book The Good Reputation is on bestseller lists in Spain at present. It’s not yet been translated so you might need more than a basic knowledge of Spanish and a dictionary for that!

Book Rating Out of 10 (you can find info on my Rating Scale here)

seven

…………. READING FICTION. READING POETRY. READING ROY OF THE ROVERS. EATING SCOTTISH MEAT PIES, QUOTING LINES FROM GREGORYS GIRL AND WORHSIPPING A MAN CALLED CANTONA – ALL WASHED DOWN WITH A SPLASH OF WORCESTER SAUCE. I CAME. I SAW. I CONCURRED.

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