Here’s hoping

24 11 2012

Hope and Glory by Stuart Maconie

In Hope and Glory Stuart Maconie goes in search of the days that shaped the Britain we live in today. Taking one event from each decade of the twentieth century, he visits the places where history happened and still echoes down the years. Stuart goes to Orgreave and Windsor, Wembley and Wootton Bassett, assembling a unique cast of Britons from Sir Edmund Hillary to Sid Vicious along the way.

It’s quite a trip, full of sex and violence and the occasional scone and jigsaw. From pop stars to politicians, Suffragettes to punks, this is a journey around Britain in search of who we are.

It’s a really nice book this. A bit in the Bill Bryson mould but no worse for that. It’s a good premise as well, visiting a range of ordinary places which have extraordinary stories. And Maconie does have an easy way about his writing which ensures that things never get dull.

Anything but Light

17 11 2012

The Lighthouse by Alison Moore

The Lighthouse begins on a North Sea ferry, on whose blustery outer deck stands Futh, a middle-aged, recently separated man heading to Germany for a restorative walking holiday.

Spending his first night in Hellhaus at a small, family-run hotel, he finds the landlady hospitable but is troubled by an encounter with an inexplicably hostile barman.

In the morning, Futh puts the episode behind him and sets out on his week-long circular walk along the Rhine. As he travels, he contemplates his childhood; a complicated friendship with the son of a lonely neighbour; his parents’ broken marriage and his own. But the story he keeps coming back to, the person and the event affecting all others, is his mother and her abandonment of him as a boy, which left him with a void to fill, a substitute to find.

He recalls his first trip to Germany with his newly single father. He is mindful of something he neglected to do there, an omission which threatens to have devastating repercussions for him this time around.

At the end of the week, Futh, sunburnt and blistered, comes to the end of his circular walk, returning to what he sees as the sanctuary of the Hellhaus hotel, unaware of the events which have been unfolding there in his absence.

This Booker short-listed debut from a former staff member at Lakeside Arts at the University of Nottingham, is a slim, well written and powerful novel. Following the route of the recently separated Futh as he heads for a week’s walking in Germany the novel takes us back to his childhood, his parents’ separation and his own desperate childhood. However, the couple who run his chosen hotel also have problems. Very good indeed.


10 11 2012

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Henry Skrimshander, newly arrived at college, shy and out of his depth, has a talent for baseball that borders on genius. But sometimes it seems that his only friend is big Mike Schwartz – who champions the talents of others, at the expense of his own. And Owen, Henry’s clever, charismatic, gay roommate, who has a secret that could put his brilliant college career in jeopardy.

Pella, the 23-year-old daughter of the college president, has returned home after a failed marriage, determined to get her life in order. Only to find her father, a confirmed bachelor, has fallen desperately in love himself.

Then, one fateful day, Henry makes a mistake – misthrows a ball. And everything changes…

In general I do like a campus novel. However, I don’t like baseball and find details about baseball really rather tedious (indeed most novels which go into any detail about sport tend to lose me a bit). The characters here are reasonably engaging but the fundamental issue is that baseball is at the heart of everything. Frankly I would have just enjoyed it a bit more if there was a little less of the locker room and the fielding and a bit more on the non-sporting lives of the leading players. All in all it’s ok though.

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