Friday, 30 September 2016


Image result for trotsky frida

THE BEAN TREES [Barbara Kingsolver]. Another American writer but this time with some wit and humour. This is her first ever novel and it is about twenty years old; we had it on the bookshelf at home and after much prodding, I finally got round to reading it. Glad I did, its good. Amazing reviews on Amazon and not all from women surprisingly.

It’s about a young girl, I think she is about twenty years old who leaves home in Kentucky in an unreliable VW heading west and on the way, an Indian woman deposits her two-year old daughter on her. She names the girl Turtle and the rest of the novel is a kind of American road journey following the girl [Taylor] across country to Tuscon, Arizona and the many people she meets on the way. Her writing is a lot like mine, first-person throughout but she has the same faults; too much dialogue; too many short sentences; too much self-deprecation which gets irritating after a while but I liked the humour . . . she doesn’t get it right all of the time . . . but she gets it right enough times to make me think I would try another of her books. This is typical of when it works:

I didn’t sleep at all that night. I was getting used to it. I watched Turtle roll from her side to her stomach and back again. Her eyes rolled back and forth under her eyelids and sometimes her mouth worked too. Whoever she was talking to in her dream, she told them a whole lot more than she’d ever told me. I would have paid good money to be in that dream.

It’s a novel, a work of fiction and again rather like my own books, the story is contrived. Reviewers speak of cardboard characters but I thought she got most of them right. There are complaints about ducking the real issues, Turtle has been sexually abused for example and some readers seem to think that the issue should have been explored in more depth, but that would be a different book. I was pretty happy with what she actually published. I think that what she has written is a book about the tension between Being and Becoming  . . . that is, the idea of holding on to what is permanent within you while you are forced into incessant change by circumstance.

If I had a complaint it would be that the voice is that of a highly intelligent, educated writer/author rather than an uneducated rural twenty-year old. Not sure what she could have done about that other than give her a college education before she set out on her road journey. The trouble is, editors, agents and publishers don’t really like authentic teenage voices as I have found out to my cost. They prefer you to write like what they think is a real young person’s voice.

IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE [Adrian McKinty]. Long time, could be ten years since I read anything by Adrian McKinty; probably Falling Glass [2008] which was a disappointment, particularly in light of the first terrific hundred pages. I’ve moved away from Noir Fiction over the years, I think it’s to do with the fact that I have more time to read now and am prepared to take chances on things that previously seemed interesting but if you only have time to read one or two novels a month, then perhaps you are inclined to stick with the usual quick fix and trust what you know. This is the novel with the famous locked room mystery. Goes on for far too long . . . takes up half the book, more in fact . . . and Sean Duffy with his drugs and his fags and liquor and his unprotected sex just doesn’t appeal to me. Yeah, yeah classic anti-hero characterisation but I don’t have to like it.
However, the story has pace and some lovely writing. The secondary tale about his old school adversary, Dermot, now a big deal in the IRA is well done and Dermot himself seems fairly authentic as an intelligent but misguided, young man. In fact I would have liked to hear more of Dermot’s worldview and how he could justify the murder of innocents. Quoting Trotsky’s War is the Locomotive of History seems a wee bit of a cop out. Some reviewers have criticised the adoption of the Brighton bomb plot in a work of fiction designed to entertain but I was okay with it. And you can see why Dermot has no time for Duffy: Duffy on the evidence anyway of this book is what my father used to call a know-all a character trait most men would run a mile from. Whatever the subject; music; history; geography; myth & legend, Duffy knows all about it. Worse, he insists on telling you what he knows.

Not sure if I will read any more Duffy books. Basically, I am not that interested in the troubles and with nine new novels on my TBR pile at the moment, I don’t think the next McKinty is a priority.


I quite liked this. Shortlisted for an American Pulitzer prize [won by All the Light we Cannot See] in 2015 it has an extraordinary range of reviews on Amazon 6xone star and 11xfive star [!]. The one-stars complain that it is repetitive, which it is and the five-stars praise it for bringing history to life, which it does. It’s definitely far too long; badly needed an editor but it’s a period of history I know little about so I was interested to have a light shone it.

It’s the story of Estebanico, a Moroccan slave who was one of the four actual survivors of the 1527 Spanish expedition to La Florida. His account of the cruel and ludicrous dealings of the gold-hungry Spanish Conquistadores with native Americans is gripping and chilling. Reduced by battle, disease and hunger to desperate castaways, a dwindling band of survivors gradually comprehends and adapts to the native culture as it makes its way towards Spanish territory in Mexico. There is a written account which Laila Lalami has fleshed out imaginatively and perhaps the one-star reviewers really ought to be reading about the Spanish conquest of Central America in academic non-fiction literature. But this is a work of fiction and it works for me.


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12thC piper Hexham Abbey

Went to a lecture last night about Northumbrian smallpipes. The guy brought some examples with him, some dating back to the early 18thC and after explaining the principles and how they functioned, then went on to play some traditional Northumberland airs and jigs. Very nice. A young girl behind me muttered, ‘music for morons’ but it is what it is, gentle solo music which creates a distinctive mood of romance or nostalgia.
Unlike Scottish bagpipes the musician doesn’t blow into the chanter, he or she has a small set of bellows which is tucked under one arm and that provides the air which provides the drone. The pipes still have a bag to hold the air provided by the bellows and the player still needs to keep the bellows going throughout the tune, but one suspects the effort is considerably less for the Northumbrian musician than it is for a Scottish piper who has to use his breath to keep the bag filled.
It is relatively speaking a simple instrument which lends itself to simple tunes but there is still a lot of refinement to be found by the best players. Music for morons? Well, Mozart it ain’t but there is room in my vocabulary for a wide variety of music and styles. Want to hear it? Click here.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016


Amin Taha is an architect working in London. I met him once when he was just starting out and working and living in two rooms. Absolutely no privacy; couple of gorgeous girls lounging around, wife, secretary, co-workers? No idea. He was moderately interested in me and what I was selling but he was just doing kitchen extensions in those days and had nothing I could really get involved with. Look at him now: award winning buildings, mega hotels and holiday complexes around the world; a really amazing website [here if you want to look] and an office with a prestige address. I thought he was charm personified back then, never thought for a moment that charm could get you this far, so fast.
His buildings represent what Philip Roth called the ecstasy of sanctimony and it cannot be defeated by analytic rigour.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016


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After the rain on Sunday the garden seemed full of spider’s webs, all suddenly visible and glistening with dew-drops. This is just one of them.