Damascus. Sex, violence & empathy

Damascus, by Christos Tsiolkas

This isn’t a book review as such because, a) I only review books I love, and, b) it is full of gratuitous violence which I abhor. The gratuitous violence, however, is the point of this post. And on a more positive note, in the real world we have progressed from the days when such violence was accepted without heed. Time to move on with our books?

Continue reading “Damascus. Sex, violence & empathy”

Washington Black – book review

Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan

This book delivers everything it promises on the cover: a surreal balloon ride through a tropical jungle, a black boy holding fast with no control over things and an pith-helmeted explorer with a telescope looking like he knows where he’s going.

Washington Black, as the name suggests, is a slave boy and the explorer is the eccentric brother of his owner on a slave plantation in Barbados. They are drawn together, Titch because of the boy’s uncanny drawing ability and Wash for the enticement of freedom. But what is freedom?

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Hurt Upon The Sea

Poetry in law

Where any Person,
being feloniously stricken,
poisoned,
or otherwise hurt upon the Sea,
or at any Place out of England or Ireland,
shall die of such Stroke,
Poisoning,
or Hurt
in England or Ireland, or,
being feloniously stricken,
poisoned,
or otherwise hurt
at any Place in England or Ireland,
shall die of such Stroke,
Poisoning,
or Hurt upon the Sea,
or at any Place out of England or Ireland,
every Offence committed in respect of any such Case,
whether the same shall amount to the Offence of Murder or of Manslaughter,
or of being accessory to Murder or Manslaughter,
may be dealt with,
inquired of,
tried,
determined,
and punished in the County or Place in England or Ireland in which such
Death,
Stroke,
Poisoning,
or Hurt shall happen,
in the same Manner in all respects as if such Offence
had been wholly committed
in that County or Place.

__________________________
The Offences Against the Person Act 1861

Congratulations Isabel Thorne

It’s just 150 years too late

I’m writing a book about a young student who goes from New Zealand to England to study medicine. Nothing unusual about that now, but this was 1883 and the student  – shock horror – was a woman!

My heroine, an invented young woman called Lenne, meets up with Isabel Thorne, a real pioneering women’s activist and one of the Edinburgh Seven, a group of feisty women who had been blocked from graduating from the University of Edinburgh because of their sex. The seven women go on to form the London School of Medicine for Women in 1874 and Thorne, still unqualified, becomes Honorary Secretary. She devotes her life to helping other women achieve the goal denied to her.

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An Officer and a Spy – book review

An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

J’accuse!” says Emile Zola, on the front page of a Paris newspaper in 1898, and the headline throws France into disarray over the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus for treason. Or for being a Jew.

This novel was a great hit with the book club boys. It’s a fascinating period of history and Robert Harris digs around in the ugly end-of-century society, with the rise of anti-semitism in Europe, witch-hunts, the manipulation of documents, false reporting, corruption, whistle-blowing, the power of state intelligence. It all sets the scene for 20th Century history and has a uncomfortable resonance even now, when we should know better.

In An Officer & a Spy, Robert Harris creates a gripping story around real events. Continue reading “An Officer and a Spy – book review”

Lincoln in the Bardo – book review

A caveat before I put this on the book club list. It may be just too weird for many people, and there is no shame in that. It won the Booker in 2017 and follows my usual rule: read everything on the Booker short-list and avoid the winner, which will be be too edgy for its own good (it is sandwiched between Milkman & Sellout, two obvious cases in point).

However, if you’re willing to try something a bit different, and your book club has been a bit samey for a while and needs a re-boot: here you go.

Lincoln in the Bardo is the kind of book best read drunk. Continue reading “Lincoln in the Bardo – book review”

Brickbat for Jerningham

For his 199th birthday

Today is Jerningham Wakefield’s 199th birthday. Happy Birthday, you old thing.

Jerningham came to Wellington with the New Zealand Company in 1839, the thin edge of the colonial wedge.  For that we can throw many brickbats. And hey, it’s his birthday! So here is my favourite Jerningham brickbat: a letter to the editor from a missionary, in reaction to Jerningham’s recently published Adventure in New Zealand.

It’s a hell of a book review. Jerningham and the missionaries never did see eye to eye Continue reading “Brickbat for Jerningham”