Sunday, 31 October 2010

The Devil's Acre

The Devil's Acre by Matthew Plampin

Proof that Amazon's 'you might also like' strategy works - this was a recommendation via Amazon when I was buying something else, and it enticed me so I bought it. I've been reading lots of novels set in the nineteenth century lately. This one is set in the early 1850s in London. The Houses of Parliament are still being built, behind Westminster Abbey is a slum area known as the Devil's Acre.

The book is a fiction based on fact, and tells the tale of the short-lived Colt gun factory set on the banks of the Thames. There's lots of political manoevreing as the larger-than-life character of Samuel Colt attempts to get the government to buy his weapons for the forthcoming war with Russia. A group of disaffected Irish work in the factory and are trying to smuggle guns out for their own purposes. The novel is told mostly from the point of view of Colt's (fictional) secretary, an ambitious young man who falls in love with a factory girl who has been forced into helping the Irish mob. He (Lowry) is torn between wanting to improve his chances by working hard for Colt, his love for the girl, and his unease about the arms trade. It's a fascinating novel, covering a very interesting period of history, and is a good example of bringing actual historical figures to life.

Monday, 11 October 2010

The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

After a massive stroke, the author was left with movement only in one eyelid. By blinking as letters of the alphabet were read out, he dictated this book about what it's like living with locked-in syndrome. Sadly, he died just after the book was first published in France.

It's an amazing achievement, and is the sort of book which makes you realise how lucky you are and how wonderful life is. Bauby writes with eloquence, warmth and wry humour.

When writing about how he insisted on being dressed in his own clothes, not hospital gowns, he writes: I see in the clothes a symbol of continuing life. And proof that I still want to be myself. If I must drool, I may as well drool on cashmere. Attaboy.

EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS BOOK, and remind yourself of what it means to be alive.

The Colour

The Colour by Rose Tremain

This was a second-hand buy from the community centre. Set in the 1860s in New Zealand, it follows a couple who have emigrated from Norfolk to make a new life down under. Joseph is running from something, unknown to his wife Harriet. They start with a farm, then Joseph discovers 'the colour' in the creek running through their land. The colour means gold. Joseph then pans for gold on his land, abandoning the farming dream, then abandons Harriet to go to the wild west coast (of NZ south island) in search of wealth.

But it is really Harriet's story, for she is the one who learns to love the expanse of the country. She follows Joseph, and when she believes he has died, she embarks on another, physical love affair.

This is a great story - lots happening, beautiful description, a wonderful evocation of another time and place, more brutal than the one we know but with its own allure. Must read more by this author.