A lively history

28 05 2016

Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively


Claudia Hampton – beautiful, famous, independent, dying.

But she remains defiant to the last, telling her nurses that she will write a ‘history of the world . . . and in the process, my own’. And it is her story from a childhood just after the First World War through the Second and beyond. But Claudia’s life is entwined with others and she must allow those who knew her, loved her, the chance to speak, to put across their point of view. There is Gordon, brother and adversary; Jasper, her untrustworthy lover and father of Lisa, her cool conventional daughter; and then there is Tom, her one great love, found and lost in wartime Egypt.

Only 30 years late coming to this Booker-winning novel. It is superbly written, really rather moving and hugely enjoyable. Highly recommended.


four stars


Number 10 Scotland Street

14 05 2016

The Revolving Door of Life (The 44 Scotland Street Series Book 10) by Alexander McCall Smith


For seven-year-old Bertie Pollock, life in Edinburgh’s most celebrated fictional street has just got immeasurably better. The enforced absence of his endlessly pushy mother Irene – currently consciousness-raising in a Bedouin harem (don’t ask) – has manifold and immediate blessings: no psychotherapy, no Italian lessons and no yoga classes. Bliss.

For Scotland Street’s grown-ups, life throws up some new dilemmas. Matthew makes a discovery that could make him even richer but also leaves him worried. Pat makes one that could make her poorer and her father miserable – unless that uber-narcissist, Bruce, can help her out. And the Duke of Johannesburg, we discover, isn’t exactly who he says he is.

From what happens behind Edinburgh Airport’s luggage carousel to Machiavellian manoeuvrings at the Association of Scottish Nudists, Alexander McCall Smith guides us through the brighter, lighter and frankly unexpected side of Edinburgh life. As ever with his 44 Scotland Street series, his readers will make their own discovery: that its blend of wit and wisdom mark it out as a comedic tour de force.

Can’t quite believe we’re already at number 10 in this series. Starting as a weekly serial in the Scotsman this McCall Smith series really has taken on a life of its own. I’ve enjoyed every one of these and the latest one really is one of the best with this being a particular highlight:

“Angus had seen such irritation bring to an untimely end the marriage of a friend who, having married for the first time at forty-three, had found his new wife’s minor idiosyncrasies to be unbearable. The straw that eventually broke the back of that marriage had been her insistence on pronouncing Gullane as it was written, rather than as Gillane, which was what it really was – a highly divisive issue in Scotland, even if not one that might be expected to bring a marriage to an end.”

Having grown up there I can, of course, confirm that the correct pronunciation is as it is written.

Fun for all the family.

four stars

Hired hand

7 05 2016

A Gun for Sale by Graham Greene



Raven is an assassin, a hired killer, and his brutal murder of the Minister raises the spectre of war across Europe. As the nation prepares for battle, Raven goes on the run, hunted by the police and hunting the man who paid him in stolen banknotes, eventually unearthing the terrible truth behind the killing.

A Gun for Sale was published two years before Brighton Rock, and its themes and characters provide a striking echo to that more famous novel, providing a fascinating glimpse into the working mind of a master novelist.

It’s an enjoyable entertainment which does definitely prefigure Brighton Rock. It has a strongly cinematic noir feel and really rattles along. I particularly liked this passage which refers to the University of Nottwich:
The coroner had been a student himself once and remembered with pleasure the day when they had pelted the Vice-Chancellor of the University with soot. The senior surgeon had been present that day too. Once safely inside the glass corridor he could smile at the memory. The Vice-Chancellor had been unpopular; he had been a classic which wasn’t very suitable for a provincial university. He had translated Lucan’s Pharsalia into some complicated metre of his own invention. The senior surgeon remembered something vaguely about stresses. He could still see the little wizened frightened Liberal face trying to smile when his pince-nez broke, trying to be a good sportsman. But anyone could tell that he wasn’t really a good sportsman. That was why they pelted him so hard.
 All good fun.

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