Monday, May 25, 2015

PARADES END - Ford Madox Ford

This is a tetralogy- four related novels.  The four were published between 1924 and 1928.  The first novel, originally published as  "Some Do Not' is set in England prior to and in the early days of the The Great War.  We are introduced to the central character, Chrstopher Tietjens, his rather horrible wife, Sylvia,(whom Graham Greene described as the most horrible woman in literature), a lover and other family members.

The second and third books," No More Parades "and "A Man Could Stand Up" are set in France in the trenches. The fourth book "The Last Post" is set set back in England after the war with Tietjens playing a very small part.

Ford served in The Great War and has written the greatest anti-war novel I've ever read, its better than "All Quiet on the Western" which moved me greatly and Catch 22.

But for a war novel there is very little fighting.  All four books are told in a 'stream of consciousness style by the characters.

Tietjens is unrelentingly moral and will not lower his standards for anyone.  He won't divorce his wife who has had a string of affairs and who became pregnant with another mans child.   He is a constant- loyalty and behaving honourably are the standards by which he lives, even if it means living in poverty.

In the trenches he makes decisions that he believes are best for his men; sometimes this back fires. He refuses leave for a soldier to go home because his wife his having an affair with a boxer.  Tietjens believes if the man goes home the lover will kill him so he declines the leave. Shortly after a bomb lands on the soldier and kills him.  Joseph Heller couldn't have done that!

This is much too much of a book for me to adequately describe, but what I took from it was how the dolts that where the civilian and military decision makers during the war marched millions to unnecessary death.

And for those in our nice safe society that state ANZAC Day and  Memorial Day celebrations and the like glorify war rather than glorify the sacrifices of those that died are fools and don't really deserve our nice safe society.

Reading this was an wonderful experience.  Anthony Burgess says this is the greatest novel of the 20th century and he knew what he was talking about.

Monday, April 27, 2015


As can been seen from the cover this is a selection of magazine essays collected from an 18 year period.  The majority of the articles are book reviews, with some critical fan boy pieces on his favourites like James Joyce.  But what ever he's writing about, its informative, well researched and makes sense.

There are roughly 200 essays in this collection so there's something for everyone who reads. Some of the best criticisms are reviews of dictionaries, yes he read entire dictionaries!

People criticize e-readers like Kindle but the dictionary function is invaluable when reading something by Burgess.  He has such a monster vocabulary I spent much time doing manual dictionary searches to understand what he was saying-that's the drawback when reading a hard copy.

Burgess, a polymath, did so much,wrote with brilliance and originality, brain the size of a continent but by his own admission" Cannot understand homosexuality", I found this strange and amusing that something as simple as this had him flummoxed.

Monday, April 13, 2015

MIDDLEMARCH - George Eliot

My, have I enjoyed reading this.  Its taken me 7 weeks, I was enjoying it so much I made it my " read in bed only book "and got another two books on the go for the bath and lying on the couch.

Its a big book 700-900 pages depending on your edition but at no time has it dragged as some of these large volumes do.  I read in a review that Elliot has not wasted a word in this and I agree, its wonderful.

I have never read anything that so perfectly describes the human condition.  It has all our little vanities, our greed, our insecurities,our decency and how we love and loathe.

There is no "big" event that drives this, its about life in a small village- that's all and its great for its entire length;.

Proper reviewers have been writing of this book for over a hundred years and describe this novel and events much better than I ever could so I wont bother.  I can best describe it as a soap opera with the most marvelous language and descriptions. The conversations sparkle and if you can ignore the fact that people get about on horseback it could be contemporary.  It has all our modern problems, debt,marriage, death, happiness great sadness.

It also has the best sex scene I've read as well, (might be a stretch calling it a sex scene), but the under statement in the scene where Lydgate and Rosamond decide to become engaged is better than anything explicit.

This isn't a romance novel, much to realistic for that -for me it just encapsulates living.

I will read it again, its in eight parts and the separate books do standalone to some extent so you can dip into it.

Loved it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


I believe I made an error reading this straight after Oliver Twist.  Where I enjoyed Oliver with its mawkishness and remarkable coincidences I found the same traits in this story too much.

From the start its obvious that things will be alright in Nicholas's world in the end just because he is so capable. Naturally there is suffering and sadness along the way but it turns out alright.

Nicholas, his sister and his mother are left to rely on an Uncle and brother in law to survive after the patriarch dies leaving them in financial straits.  The uncle is of course a horrible person and puts the brother and sister into work with dastardly types.

Nicholas is put to work in a school with the cruel Squeers family.   This part of the book is interesting in that in the time this was written anyone with a building could start a school, that was all you needed.  This part of the story is based on Dickens experience of visiting a school set up similar to the one in the book.

But this book is padded, it was a serial and it is plainly so ,it segues ways away from our hero regularly and for no good reason much of the time.

At the end there is the "Dickensian coincidence" which tidies up all the loose ends.

Must admit I struggled to get to the end, again probably because I went straight into this from Twist.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

OLIVER TWIST - Charles Dickens

The tale of the orphan boy Oliver Twist born and raised as a pauper.

This was Dickens first novel rather than a collection like Pickwick. The beginning sets the scene and establishing the conditions paupers had to endure living in work houses.  The children were treated as a hindrance and in Olivers' case sold off to lessen the burden on the parish.

The middle passages dragged a bit for me especially when dealing with Mr. Bumbles matrimonial pursuits.  This part felt like padding and may well have been as this was originally published in installments and I assume  Dickens got paid by the part.

The final third of the story rocks along nicely until its conclusion.

This novel gave us two of literature most horrid villains, Fagin and Bill Sykes, two men without a redeeming feature, extreme in their evil.

The story does tend toward the mawkish occasionally but this was done by Dickens deliberately for his readers.  This was written as a contemporary novel and I would hope that the some readers did take note of the conditions that people were living in everyday.

My only previous exposure to this story was Lionel Bart's musical adaptation so I kept seeing Jack Wild and Oliver Reed as I was reading but the movie bears no resemblance to the starkness of this story and how humans were forced to live.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


This book is delightful, 58 chapters of adventure featuring Mr Samuel Pickwick, retired man of business, and friends, as they drink, explore, laugh and cry over a period of two years in mid 1830's England.

This book was the first Dickens and originally published in monthly installments.  The chapters are loosely tied together through the characters of the book but most stand alone.  We have stories of Goblin's, shyster lawyers, drinking  in vast quantities, short stories within chapters, a stay in a Debtors Prison and vast amounts of humanity.

The episodes where Pickwick prefers a Debtors Prison to paying a disgraceful Court decision are sobering.  It's staggering that people were just left to die in prison because of civil debt.

Generally, however humour is the driver and this book is very funny.  I imagine P G Wodehouse must have had a great working knowledge of this book because his Bertie & Jeeves tales are Pickwick taken to the nth degree.

I can say honestly that not once in 700 pages did my interest flag; reading from beginning to end was a wonderful experience.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A TALE OF TWO CITIES - Charles Dickens

This is the first Dickens I have ever read and I absolutely loved it.

This is a love story set against the upheaval prior to and during the beginning of the French Revolution set in London and Paris.  I understand now why Sydney Carton is one of the great characters of English literature.

Seeing as the majority of the world has read this book there's not much to say other than it has made the only resolution I made for 2015, which was to read Dickens, so much easier, it would have been a tough ask if I didn't like the first book I attempted.

In a book full of well known quotes, the following is one that made me laugh in a book not known for its humour.

"The learned profession of the law was certainly not behind any other learned profession in it's Bacchanalian propensities."