The Scheme

30 09 2009

The Scheme for Full Employment by Magnus Mills

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‘Life on The Scheme is like being in a great big feather bed. You’ve got your full uniform provided, winter and summer, subsidized cups of tea and sandwiches, the opportunity for a quiet doze in a lay-by while you wait to clock off, and a generous weekly wage. And all you’ve got to do is turn up for work every day! But it could all so easily come to an end. Already, workers are beginning to divide into opposing camps, and a new superintendent has arrived, intent on sending The Scheme the way of ‘all those other failed social experiments, like public transport, school dinners and municipal orchestras’.

A short, odd and really rather entertaining novel.

3 star





Nether Nether Land

26 09 2009

Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

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Mixed reviews on this but I really rather enjoyed it. Plot-wise not a lot actually happens:

In early 2006, Chuck Ramkissoon is found dead at the bottom of a New York canal. In London, a Dutch banker named Hans van den Broek hears the news, and remembers his unlikely friendship with Chuck and the off-kilter New York in which it flourished: the New York of 9/11, the powercut and the Iraq war. Those years were difficult for Hans — his English wife Rachel left with their son after the attack, as if that event revealed the cracks and silences in their marriage, and he spent two strange years in New York’s Chelsea Hotel, passing stranger evenings with the eccentric residents. Lost in a country he’d regarded as his new home, Hans sought comfort in a most alien place — the thriving but almost invisible world of New York cricket, in which immigrants from Asia and the West Indies play a beautiful, mystifying game on the city’s most marginal parks.

And the cricket element is, rather disappointingly, underplayed. But nevertheless found this a quiet, serious and surprisingly moving novel.

4 star





Et tu

6 09 2009

Caesar by Allan Massie

From review by Tom Adair in Independent on publication in 1993:

FOR MOST of us Julius Caesar lives, as a schoolroom memory of Shakespeare, in the moment of his dying as he slumps in slow motion beneath the daggers of his assassins. Allan Massie’s achievement in Caesar (as in Augustus, in particular, and in Tiberius), is to infuse the mythical emperor with blood, to press succulent marrow into the hollow of his bones.

caesarMassie authenticates his tale by drawing together those famous familiars – Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon, his triumph over Pompey, Cleopatra smuggled to Caesar in a carpet, the Ides of March – through the thought-scape and memory of Caesar’s confidante and adviser, a wordsmith worthy of Massie’s mission to reveal and entertain.

The review continues:

These, Brutus states, are his memoirs, not an apology, (though he is captive, awaiting judgement on his role as foremost betrayer of Caesar’s trust). The novel conveys with remarkable clarity the double focus of Decimus’s tale, the rationale of a conspiracy, combined with its author’s urge to play the honourable man.

Massie discloses through the tone of the narration, Decimus Brutus’s striving for poise, his grasp of the polity and complexity of his times, his stealth, his manipulative power, his aspiration to seeming neutrality: ‘I suppose historians will call (it) the conspiracy. I would reject that term: it has criminal connotations . . . we were executioners of just necessity.’

This captures it perfectly. Caesar really is a terrific, intelligent and amusing read. And, as Adair suggests, it is rather reminiscent of Anthony Burgess at his best.

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