Wednesday, September 9, 2020
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
Havers and Lynley are characters I've come to think of as old friends, and the promise of checking up on them tempted me to pick up this 690-page tome. The chance to meet those two again, along with the expectation of a look-in at Isabelle Ardery to see if she's still drinking, tempted me on through the early scenes before the police appear. Like many good mysteries, this one builds slowly, then proceeds not quite apace through dead ends and red herrings.
In the course of the story, we slowly get to know an enormous cast of characters. Through a particularly Georgian alchemy, those whose egregious misbehaviour we'd initially despised become more sympathetic as we learn what forces and circumstances drove them to become what they are.
Why do so many disparate women feel they deserve punishment anyway? The answers are far from black and white. As George trots out all the big themes, she's relentless in putting the less savoury aspects of culture under a microscope. First she portrays intricate and twisted family dysfunction. In the name of loving and knowing what's best for their children, some parents presume to own them, claiming the right to use any and all kinds of pressure, secrecy and deception in service of their own illusory goals, not the least of which is the ego-driven fear, sometimes not entirely conscious, of what others will think of them.
She reveals corrupt social mores that chain sexuality to shame, violence, brutality, and the unbridled pursuit of power. We're also made to see the lengths to which people will go to satisfy a desperate need to belong -- or at least to be seen to belong. In the course of unveiling these human flaws, readers must also witness the substance abuse people resort to in their failed attempts to cover the pain that results from the willful determination of families and societies to bend individuals to their pattern, regardless of personal cost.
In the end, the author draws together many threads to bring the book to a satisfying conclusion, offering at least the possibility of forgiveness, redemption, and a future better than the past.
In series news (spoiler alert for anyone who hasn't read a Lynley-Havers since What Came Before He Shot Her): Havers is learning to tap dance, and Lynley has a lady friend he wants to introduce to his family in Cornwall.
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
The price of silence, the power of propaganda, the incitement to violence of poor, ignorant and frightened people -- it's all there in this well-researched work of fiction. Hetty's experience portrays the unwillingness we feel to believe the stories of evil until we are confronted with the most devastatingly direct evidence. Her character arc also shows how in a moment of crisis, one's natural morality can engender great courage. The refusal of even one individual to comply with an evil regime can and does make a difference.
It's strong stuff, reading about the rise of Nazism in Germany through the thirties, long before the occupation of Poland that set off the war. The author's note sounds a warning, and explains why she spent years pursuing the enormous project of creating an authentic and completely believable story of four children who grow up together, only to be split apart by political forces they are initially too immature to understand.
In Germany in the thirties, says the author, all media were marshalled to create a propaganda machine that managed to silence dissent in order to control and manipulate an entire population. "Today," she says, "we potentially face a similar trajectory with the resurgence of nationalism; the fast-developing far right and far-left sentiments; and extremism in many awful forms." Along with populist leaders winning elections, Brexit, and increasingly open expressions of racist sentiment, she points to "anti-Semitism rearing its ugly head once more," while people rely for news on the "false bubbles of their social media networks."
Yet stories have power. A good book "can reach out and pull a reader int a world they knew nothing about," and emotionally engage readers in the way that facts and news cannot." Stories, says Louise Fein, can live on in readers' minds. I couldn't agree more. The story of Hetty and Walter will certainly live on in mine.
Sunday, July 19, 2020
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
The human quest for wisdom is as perennial as the grass.
Thursday, July 2, 2020
Tuesday, June 30, 2020
We are present at a famous New Year's party hosted by Princess Shevekiar, and learn that King Ahmed Fuad of Egypt was one of her four ex-husbands. We also glimpse the drunken revelries hosted at "Tara" by SAS operative David Stirling. At one of these, his eccentric roommate, a Polish aristocrat, gets into an argument with neighbours after her pet mongoose bites their cat.
We learn of The Gezira Sporting Club with its polo and racing, and many other kinds of clubs. We learn how British Egyptian official and art collector Sir Robert Greg, nicknamed Pompy for his alleged pomposity, approached the Howard Carter estate and persuaded them to return King Tut's treasures to the Egyptian Museum. Cooper also relates the sad story of King Farouk's fabulously expensive gift of chocolates, a kind of low-key political bribe which he orders from Groppi's and which is sent to the UK via Khartoum, Lisbon and Ireland, only to remain unopened on arrival in London.
Indeed, we witness the more fortunate occupants of Cairo eating and drinking sumptuously, while remaining somewhat lackadaisical about following blackout regulations. On the other hand, we learn of bread riots, sugar and paraffin shortages, and how falling cotton prices cause immense hardship to poorer Egyptians.
We learn of the Flap, a temporary period when officials, considering the fall of Cairo to the Axis powers imminent, send their wives and children to South Africa for safety, then frantically burn papers in the British Embassy lest the enemy capture them. We are told tales of spies and of drunken soldiers in the streets, including Australians with a reputation (deserved or not, we do not know) for throwing prostitutes out the window of the brothel when they finish with them.