48. ‘The Ghost Road’ by Pat Barker – Vol.III of the Regeneration Trilogy.

The final volume in what both Mum and I considered to be one of the best series of books ever written about the First World War. ‘The Ghost Road’ is a magnificent conclusion, focusing very much the characters already introduced in the first books;  especially Rivers, the psychiatrist, and Billy Prior; and introducing some new ones as well.

I can’t put it better than Kate Kellaway’s Observer review extract on the back cover..

‘There’s a savage carnality about Barker’s writing…Her portrait of Prior is unforgettable; frightening and frightened, a peculiar mixture of conscience, repression, and violent sexual release…while it depends upon the withheld emotions of war for its tension, it allows laughter and grief in the reader. At the end, I had tears running down my cheeks’.

So did I. I re-read this late late year, and it affected me just as deeply as it did the first time I read it. I particularly enjoyed finding out more about Rivers and his anthropological background, and the scenes with Billy’s fiancee, Sarah Lumb, and her awful mother Ada are marvellous – ‘He’d been looking all along at a face scoured out by grief, and he’d never known it till now’.

This volume won the Booker Prize in 1995, unsurprisingly, and although you could read and enjoy it alone, I would seriously recommend getting your hands on the first two volumes and reading it in order. The first is simply called ‘Regeneration’, the second is ‘The Eye in the Door’.

As always, let me know if you would like this copy, either here or on the Facebook/Instagram pages, and I’ll send it to you with love from Mum and I.

I do know that one of our Facebook ‘Mums Book Club’ members has the first two volumes…but rather embarrassingly, I can’t remember who! BUT please get in touch if you’d like this…(I am fairly sure however that after reading the first two, you probably went and found a copy of this one!)

 

47. ‘War and Peace’ by Leo Tolstoy

There is nothing I can say about this wonderful book that has not been said before, so instead, I’m going to tell you two stories.

First, mine. The original TV adaptation aired on the BBC in 1972, when I was ten, and there were only three channels, and we were super lucky to have a colour TV. It was directed by John Davies, scripted by Jack Pullman, and I fell in love with it.. I was a bit of a nerdy kid! And it really was wonderful: Alan Dobie as Prince Andrei Bolkonsky became my idol and obsession, and a young Anthony Hopkins played the life out of Pierre. By the time it finished, it would have been around Christmas time, and in those days, one present you were almost guaranteed to receive from an Aunt or Uncle was a Book Token…who remembers them? I do, with great fondness.

So. After Christmas, I hauled my Mum off to the local book shop in Purley to buy a copy of ‘War and Peace’ with said Book Token. I believe the last book I had bought there was ‘Black Beauty’, which still makes me feel emotional just thinking about how upset I was reading it, and I don’t even like horses that much! I was definitely a regular customer, as well as an avid user of the local library. Told you, I was a nerd!

The edition at that time came in two volumes; I found the first, and presented it and my Book Token to the proprietor… who asked me who I was buying it for. Well, me of course! I retorted, upon which he said if I did in fact read it, and could answer some questions about it when I went back for Volume 2, he would GIVE me Volume 2. I remember clearly feeling a little miffed – of course I was going to read it!

As I said, I was a proper nerd, read Volume 1 in about ten days, much of it under the bedspread with a torch….and promptly whipped off back to the bookshop. Alone, this was the early Seventies, people were still nice generally. And, he was as good as his word – tested me on my knowledge of Volume 1…and gave me Volume 2. What a man!

Since then, I have re-read it at least three times. The last couple, I skipped through the battles, which are described in great detail, and the VERY long passages about Pierre’s Masonic adventures, concentrating on the wonderful love stories and the descriptive passages…who could possibly forget Sonya and Nicolai’s sleigh ride, or the ball where Andrei sees Natasha in her white gown, and decides to marry her if she asks her cousin to dance…

The second story is a bit shorter, and reveals just why the inscription in Mum’s copy reads ‘Finally!’. In 2016, the Beeb did another adaptation of the novel.. I have not seen it, I confess, I was living in Indonesia at the time,  but Mum was really enjoying it…and perhaps foolishly, admitted to never having read the book. Shamed her into it!

Hence, the triumphant inscription ‘Finally!’ in her copy! (Plus a tear out from the Radio Times with the characters from the 2016 version, which was tucked inside)

I honestly think this would be a Desert Island book for me. It is undoubtedly meaty, dense, and wordy. It is one of the ‘classic’ novels, and for good reason. It is an easier read than Anna Karenina, which is in my mind also a Must Read! And, that’s a BeckyandVince Russian Doll book thong in the pic. Seemed appropriate.

So. Have you read it? If not, why not…I honestly believe it is a Must Read – and would you like Mum’s copy, in which case, please get in touch either here or through the FB page, and I will gift it forward to you with love from Mum and I.

 

 

46. ‘I am Pilgrim’ by Terry Hayes.

What a book! If you like a good thriller, you will love this – it is non stop action from the beginning to the end, and I found it very hard to put down.

Mum started reading this during her final illness, and thoroughly recommended it to me. Sadly, she didn’t get to finish it, but I know she was enjoying it. What’s not to enjoy about a fast paced thriller, although I do have a couple of issues, which I’ll touch on in a moment.

This is Mr Hayes first novel, and I hope it won’t be his last. He has had a long and successful career as a screenwriter, and I wonder if it is that experience that produced such a page turner as this..there are no boring parts!

Here’s the blurb from the back cover….

‘A young woman murdered in a run-down Manhattan hotel. A father publicly beheaded in the blistering sands of Saudi Arabia. A man’s eyes stolen from his living body as he leaves a secret Syrain research laboratory. Smouldering human remains on a mountainside in the Hindu Kush. A plot to commit an appalling crime against humanity. One thread that binds them all. One man to take the journey. Pilgrim.’

I know, it’s a bit LOTR…but holy macaroni, this really does MOVE, including around the world, and the details about the different countries are good. The plot in a nutshell; a terrorist is trying to unleash smallpox on the world, and it’s our hero’s job to stop him.

However. Here are my issues. Firstly, it is a bit Islamophobic, and ‘Thank goodness for America’-ish, which grates for me personally. In a post 9/11 world, it is easy as a Westerner to assume that most Muslims are out to get you – seriously, they’re mostly not. And secondly, the hero, Pilgrim, is more Dirk Pitt than James Bond –  if that makes sense. He does spend a lot of time telling you how brilliant he is. Bond just knew he was.

But if what you’re looking for is a ripping yarn that will keep you turning the pages well past bedtime, or make a long flight pass really quickly, then this is the thriller for you, and, despite my reservations above, I do thoroughly recommend it!

As I said, Mum didn’t finish this, so it doesn’t have her initials and date inside the front cover – she always did that when she had finished a book. But I did, I enjoyed it, and I’d love to gift it forward, so please get in touch either here or through the Facebook page if you’d like it, and I’ll send it on to you!

45. ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Now here is a very, very special book, one I admit to being somewhat hesitant to gift forward – it was such an absolute favourite of Mum’s. However, after she first read it in 1989, she bought me a copy and sent it to me in Australia, and I know that copy is still in the family, so here goes!

Do you enjoy spectacular, Nobel Prize winning prose? Love magical realism as a style of writing? Are you a connoisseur of eccentric, flamboyant characters? And are you prepared to dive into a world populated by generations of them, many of whom, confusingly at times, have the same names? Well, this is The Book for you.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who died in 2014, was a prolific Columbian writer, and this is his landmark 1967 novel about the Buendia family, whose patriarch, Jose Arcadio Buendia, founded the fictional town of Macondo in Colombia. He is a master of outstandingly beautiful sentences – the very first line is in itself captivating in my opinion… ‘Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice’. I remember that he caught me hook, line and sinker with that one!

It is definitely not an ‘easy read’. The family are disturbingly insane – one eats dirt, another comes back from the dead. There is a plague of contagious insomnia, and a disturbing spot of pedophilia, be warned. You won’t race through it – it requires slow and careful reading to truly appreciate and enjoy it.

But if you can read like that, then I promise you, you will love it. And if you do, look for ‘Love in the time of Cholera’…which I think is even better…

As always, if you would like this copy, just message me here or through the Facebook page, and if you have already read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts !

 

44. ‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood.

I had been looking forward to reading this so much – and bought it for a holiday read for a little side trip to Bali for Youngest Daughter and I towards the end of my trip home to Australia in January this year. Suffice it to say, that although I was deliberately reading quite slowly for me, a five and a half hour plane ride saw it finished…what a book!

Margaret Atwood is, for me, one of the absolute great authors of our time – Mum and I shared this view, although we did have different opinions about other writers…Mum was a massive Gore Vidal fan – I have yet to find just what she loved so much, although I shall be attempting one of her collection soon!

Sadly, we lost Mum before this book was released, and also before the TV adaptation of its predecessor, the Handmaids Tale, which I know we would have very much enjoyed discussing. The Handmaids Tale was first published in 1985 and was way ahead of its time, gaining massive relevance in recent years with various influences in the USA in particular, including of course the ‘me too’ movement, and the rise of fundamental religion…I do not criticise, just observe.

In this, the sequel, we are listening to the ‘testimony’ of three main characters – Aunt Lydia, and the two daughters of June, or Offred, the central character in Handmaid.

I found Lydia especially fascinating, she is not a character one warms to in Handmaid, and yet in this narration we see her essential humanity too.. Her story really is one of survival of the fittest, and we discover her background, the circumstances and choices she made which resulted in the Aunt Lydia June knows. Brilliant.

As the three testimonies and voices gradually become interwoven, we are treated to yet more of Margaret Atwood utter skill in painting a picture of this dystopian future. Her prose is, as always, clear and concise, and the three womens voices are distinct in their own characters. I was completely unable to put this down until I had finished it, it held me captivated all the way – and unlike Handmaid, although at the end we are again shot forward into the future, and a discussion between historians about Gilead, there are none of the loose ends that were left at the end of Handmaid, the book anyway.

I strongly suggest you read Handmaid, don’t rely on the TV series if you intend to read this. The book is so much better, truly…although I also enjoyed both the TV series, it is different.

And I can’t gift this one, I’m afraid – it was left behind in Australia for Youngest Daughter! Although I am sure once she has read it, she will be happy to gift it forward.

Would love to know what other people thought of this book!

43. ‘The English Patient’ by Michael Ondaatje.

This is one of Mum’s Books, and I remember having a conversation with her about how so many people have seen the (rather wonderful!) film starring Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche and Kristin Scott-Thomas, not many seem to have actually read the book, which is a shame.

It’s certainly one of those books which I personally feel I have to slow my reading speed down for in order to fully appreciate the exquisite prose, like the difference between a power-walk along a concrete track and a leisurely stroll through a beautifully landscaped park, with vista’s opening before you, and hidden walkways, and copses of glorious trees sprinkled with wildflowers…

In actual fact, the storyline is clearer in the movie in some ways than it is in the book – I found myself needing to really keep track of who was doing what and when, as I found myself drifting off into a star speckled ocean of desert dunes. The relationships within the story are examined with such a deft and delicate touch, and oh, the language…it is a masterpiece!

I definitely give this a massive thumbs up, I enjoyed it no end.

And, as always, if you would like this copy, just get in touch with me either here or through the Facebook page, and I will gift it forward to you with love from Mum and I.

42: ‘Homo Deus’ by Yuval Noah Harari

Oh My Goodness….what a book! My second read for 2020, and my second book by this author – again, not one of Mum’s Books, but one I bought at the airport for the LOOOOONG flight to Australia.

Those of you who have been following my journey will remember my enthusiasm for this author’s first book, ‘Homo Sapiens’, which was a brief history of how we became who we are today – the dominant life form on the planet, the responsibilities that incurs, the reasoning behind why we are so successful as a species. It was great – seriously, if you have not read it, I strongly recommend you do!

In this, his second, he examines the potential history of our future. And by jingo, I found it chilling, edifying, alarming, and completely un-putdownable.

It seems to me that this book has been written at exactly the time it needed to be written. Whereas the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, which were covered in Homo Sapiens, occurred over lengthy spans of time, the massive changes in our way of life that are happening day by day now are completely overwhelming in their velocity, and the author presents us with a vision of a world dominated by technology and algorithms, where the ability to manipulate our biology creates an ‘upper’ class of Superhumans, while the vast majority of us are relegated to a useless underclass, being kept happy and entertained by more algorithms. Most jobs as we know them today will be performed much more efficiently by artificial intelligence – including the creative arts, which have always seemed to be so ‘human’.

I found it interesting that he predicts that aged care, for example, as we develop more skills to keep people alive longer, will still be a role best filled by Homo Sapiens, whereas a network of AI doctors will be more efficient than a human one…

He discusses the irrelevance of the great religions that have dominated the human existence for so long, compared to the factual answers presented by AI, and does so in a most sympathetic way in my view.

He speaks about the ‘soul’, the inner you, the conscious, as being in fact little more than the product of the algorithm of the human brain – which of course, operates by electrical signals, which scientists are beginning to understand more and more…and are becoming more able to manipulate, again creating ‘Superhuman’ abilities in their subjects.

One of the parts that really caught my attention was the potential demise of liberalism and in fact democracy, since as we are all well aware (or should be), the algorithms that run Google, Facebook and the rest of the internet are literally beginning to know us better than we know ourselves…how many times have we heard people laugh about the fact that they were looking at washing machines on Amazon, and Facebook presented them with a series of ads for washing machines the next time you log in?! Really, rather spine chilling.

He summarises that eventually, the human species will relinquish ‘meaning’ for power, giving the Superhumans and the AI network an almost God like role, predicting the rise of a new quasi religion of Dataism…

Seriously, if you haven’t read this, I wholeheartedly recommend it, although it is not for the faint of heart. As I approach the close of my sixth decade, I find this intrusion of technology into everyday life overwhelming and somewhat terrifying, and although I use the Internet daily for my business, I honestly think otherwise, I might just being going a little bit modern Luddite and opting out altogether. And I hope my children are well enough equipped to ride out this third enormous change in the way we humans exist upon the planet.

I don’t have this available to gift, as Youngest Daughter snaffled it immediately, but I have just started on his third book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. I’ll keep you posted.