Category Archives: Book Reviews

Sharpe Witted

I was bookish as a child and read some of the Tom Sharpe novels that were in my Dad’s little library many years ago. I’m sure I read this one too, but it’s been so long that I’ve forgotten it if I did.

They’re pretty funny. You can see how Terry Pratchett was influenced by him, the satire, the repressed characters and their internal monologues. He beautifully describes the passive aggressive way with which British people of a certain class communicate with each other; the damning insults wrapped in apparent politeness that still persists in modern Britain. As someone who didn’t grow up in that culture I’ll never get used to it but it’s nice to be able to laugh at it here.

Tom Sharpe’s use of English can be profound as well as comical. Through the character of Skullion he describes the quintessential English gentleman as ‘not what they were, but what they ought to be, like some battle standard that you followed because it was a symbol of the best. A ragged, tattered piece of cloth that stood for something and gave you confidence and something to fight for“. I love that.

Then there are more comedic lines like this one discussing the academic record of the college.. “they had steered Porterhouse away from the academic temptations to which all other Cambridge colleges had succumbed and had preserved that integrity of ignorance which gave Porterhouse men the confidence to deal with life’s complexities which men with more educated sensibilities so obviously lacked“. Beautiful.

If you haven’t read his work before I’d recommend it.

History

I finished another book today, just thought I’d mention it. I found this for sale at the Northampton County Tip for next to nothing and it sat unread for a good while before I made the recent decision to either read or get rid of unread books on my bookshelf.

This was diverting enough but had it’s problems. The author repeats the same kind of jokes over and over again for in excess of five hundred pages. For example, quoting a historical fact and referring to something modern: The Bank of England also issued banknotes, although each one had to be handwritten until 1725, which made for quite a queue at the cashier’s window. Then there’s the kind of opposite joke relating something modern to something historical, like the Normans seeing a road sign for Battle and deciding to fight the Battle of Hastings there. Most of the jokes work but repeating the formula incessantly gives the book an odd feel and might get on the nerves of other less forgiving readers. By the end of the book you’re pretty much guessing the jokes before the set-up even arrives.

Still, there are lots of interesting dinner party facts to take out of it and it’s an easy read. I’ll be giving it away though, not a keeper.

Orange Revolution

I finished a book, something to celebrate these days. It’s a history of the Glorious Revolution, when the Catholic King James II was replaced with the Dutch stadtholder William and his wife Mary in 1688. It’s a fascinating story and one not really covered by my history lessons at school.

Worried about a Catholic royal line, influential Protestants in England grew increasingly concerned about the pro-Catholic actions of James II. In Holland, the stadholder (head of state) William III was worried about the growing French threat and the potential loss of a Protestant ally. His wife was the daughter of James II and therefore was in the line of succession. Cutting a long story short, William invaded and was subsequently pronounced joint-monarch with his wife.

I’ve always found the history of the Monarchy fascinating, I did a big project on it in junior school and won a prize. I think. I spent hours on it. This particular episode is interesting for several reasons. In being handed the throne, William accepted an increase in the power of Parliament, which paved the way for the constitutional monarchy we have to this day. It could have prevented a Catholic royal line, but could also have prevented an English or British Republic. There was a Republican movement in England, not long after Cromwell, that could have used James II’s unpopularity to overthrow the monarchy altogether.

Very interesting. Which is why this book didn’t join the number of unfinished (or unread) books that occupy my bookshelf.

Dreamy

I finished this yesterday. It’s called After Dark by Haruki Murakami, a Japanese author recommended to me by my friend Jesse. I picked it up in a charity shop in East Finchley for a measly amount and it turned out to be excellent value.Okay there’s not really a plot, it’s not that kind of book. But it meanders here and there, following the experiences of various characters who find themselves out and about after the last train home. There’s a metaphysical element, centred around a young woman in a long, deep sleep, one she doesn’t seem to want to wake up from. It explores how the characters are to some extent trapped within their lives, alienated from the lives of others by their secrets, foibles or tragedies. It’s well written in the sense that the prose stimulates the mind, with the musings of the various characters offering food for thought. Ultimately a mood piece.