Monday, 25 April 2011

The Knife Man

The Knife Man by Wendy Moore

I've previously read and loved Wendy Moore's book Wedlock so was looking out for more by her. This one's a biography of Georgian surgeon, John Hunter. He was an unconventional pioneer of surgical techniques and anatomical investigations. He obtained (mostly via grave-robbing!) thousands of bodies to dissect, and as a result added an enormous amount to the world's knowledge of the human body. He didn't stop at humans - also dissected and experimented on animals, from dogs and sheep to exotic species brought back by explorers.

It's a fascinating read. If you're a bit squeamish I'd advise against it, but I absolutely loved it. Really well researched, easy to read, and very informative.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

White Lies

White Lies by Lynn Michell

I bought a couple of books from Linen Press last year and thoroughly enjoyed them both, so was looking forward to this year's crop. White Lies certainly did not disappoint - I have barely been able to put it down since I started it!

At its heart, the story is of a love triangle between Mary; her husband David whom she married young, pre-WW2, and found she didn't really know after the war years kept them apart; and Harry, David's friend and colleague. But the whole thing is set against an unforgettable backdrop - 1950s Kenya, and the beginnings of the Mau Mau uprising. That's not a period in history I knew a lot about, and I always love learning a bit more history from reading a novel. David, Harry and Mary are stationed in Kenya, living the colonial life with plenty of black servants at their beck and call - loyal servants now but some are beginning to violently turn on their white masters. Mary and David have two young daughters. The story is told in David's, Mary's and their daughter Eve's voices, and in places you get three versions of the same events. Everyone rewriting history, telling white lies, to suit themselves.

This book is beautifully written, and was a real page-turner. I loved it, and thoroughly recommend it. If you are tempted to buy it, please do so from Linen Press direct rather than from Amazon for reasons explained here.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

The Adventure of English

The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg

Bought this when visiting the Evolving English exhibition at the British Library a couple of weeks back, and decided to read it straight away. I've always been fascinated by etymology. This book is laid out as a biography of the English language, and Bragg writes about English almost as though it were a living, breathing, conscious entity. How did a language first brought to England by Saxon invaders in around 500AD become the globally spoken language of commerce and business that it is today?

The book leads us from Old English (whose words still make up the core of our language - Churchill's We shall fight them on the beaches speech almost entirely consists of words from old english), through the Middle English of Chaucer, to the modern English of Shakespeare. And then on - English has an amazing knack of absorbing words from other languages (unlike French which actively resists adopting phrases such as le weekend) and perhaps because of this, is able to express more ideas more precisely than other languages.

So there are chapters on the influence of American English, Indian English, even Australian English by drongo, and Jamaican. Utterly absorbing and brilliantly written. Loved it.