After a longish period, with not much happening at all, the last week has been a particularly good time for reviews of my 'nostalgedy...
Saturday, 25 October 2014
Make Love, Not War?
I don't know if it is an outcome of being retired (see Shy of Retiring but I seem to have developed some rather unusual reading habits. My normal practice is to find an author I like and then read everything they have ever produced (or will produce), which is why I have bookshelves groaning with Wodehouse, Pratchett, Bryson and McCall-Smith, interspersed with little clutches of slightly less prolific authors such as Eric Malpass and Garrison Keillor. Lately however I have been branching out somewhat, and I'm not sure if its a good thing, or not?
It all started with a visit to a charity book store. They had an offer of any three books on the table for 50p. There was one book that I really wanted and I should really just have bought that, but being parsimonious in the extreme, I was determined to get my money's worth and picked up two more, one of which was Clive Ponting's '1940: Myth and Reality'. I'm not normally one for revisiting the last unpleasantness, I had more than enough of that as a child when every Sunday afternoon had a film in which John Mills, Noel Coward or Jack Hawkins stoically endured appalling hardships whilst saving the Free World. However, I gave it a try and was surprised to find out how much I didn't know about the origins of the war and how close we came to losing it. Actually 'we' is a bit of a stretch as I wasn't even born then, so I can neither take credit nor criticism. This is a well researched book which gives some real insights into the reality of the UK position - which was basically that we were broke and could only hope to hang on grimly and wait for the U.S. to join in the fun. Obviously it is necessary to be aware of the particular political slant that all historians apply to their research but this is an interesting, if not exactly uplifting, book.
Somewhat depressed, courtesy of Mr. Ponting, I decided that I needed something a little more light-hearted, and I found it in Sue Welfare's 'Just Desserts'. I'm not sure how I came across this but I think it was on offer. I read the blurb and the reviews and then read a sample, and was hooked. In fact, this is the first book in a very long time that I have read twice, back to back, because I enjoyed it so much and didn't want it to end. The disturbing part is that this is definitely 'chick-lit' writ large. Men are either handsome and humorous (in a self-deprecating fashion) or child-like adulterers who deserve all they get. Women are resourceful, hard working and yet to realise their full potential or scheming gold-diggers. Nevertheless, this was great fun and certainly dispelled the gathering gloom from Mr. Ponting's effort.
The problem is that this has now established a bit of a reading pattern with me. I find myself (which can be disconcerting if you weren't looking for yourself at the time) alternating between horrors of WWII and 'chick-lit', which can't really be healthy.
Having finished Ms. Welfare's tome for the second time, I decided that it might be useful to take a look at the other end of WWII, the bit where we won it! Accordingly, as it was on offer, I downloaded Max Hasting's 'Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-1945'. Now I know, from the title, that I shouldn't have expected this to be particularly cheery reading, but it plunged new depths for me. The story is cleverly told from the perspectives of each of the warring nations but the lurch from one atrocity to another is quite demoralising. The Russian advance was particularly grim - I never thought I would find myself feeling sympathetic toward the Nazi defenders, but I did in these chapters.
Thoroughly depressed, I turned to Ms. Welfare for comfort and found it in 'Cooking Up a Storm', another improbable but hugely enjoyable tale of a wronged wife who finds a new life for her and her children in a cottage on an estate run by the handsome but feckless Lord of the Manor. Great fun and a huge relief after the fall of Berlin.
Unable to resist the siren call of further atrocities, and eager to know the background to the Soviet psyche with regard to WWII, I downloaded (in my defence, it was on offer again) 'Leningrad: Tragedy of a City under Siege, 1941-1944'. If you're ever in need of feeling totally depressed and hopeless, this is the book for you. Caught between the incompetence, brutality and corruption of Soviet-era Communism and the sadistic desire of the Nazis to see what would happen if you starved x million people to death, the people of Leningrad endured unimaginable horrors in order to survive. This is a story cleverly told from the perspectives and first-hand accounts of the participants, and is clearly very well researched. It certainly helped me to understand the Russian determination to spare no-one in their fight back. I particularly liked the way in which officialdom coined a quasi-medical term for 'dying of hunger' without actually saying it - 'dystrophic'.
Inevitably, I ran from these horrors back into the welcoming arms of Ms. Welfare again. In this case, 'Off the Record' was my book of choice. This is a cleverly done but frustrating tale in which the two main protagonists are kept apart by a stupid misunderstanding early in the book and their twin stories are cunningly interwoven until fate takes a hand and all is made right. Another tale of adulterous husbands, handsome would-be heroes and women finally reaching their potential in their careers and life-choices. Well written as always and deeply satisfying (everything turns out right in the end).
So you can see my dilemma. I'm stuck in a pattern of reading that can't be healthy for me. There's much more in this vein, which I'll tell you about next time. I wonder if there's a helpline I could call?
Despite Philip's rather odd reading tastes, you may well find his writing just what you're looking for. Take a look at his Amazon Author Page.