Wednesday, September 23, 2015

NOTRE-DAME de Paris - Victor Hugo

Or The Hunch Back of Notre Dame as its known in English.

Firstly, this novel is nothing like the many film and television versions that have been made over the years.  It is set in medieval Paris, a very tough time to be alive, and although Quasimodo plays a central role he is by no means the central figure.

The central figure is Notre Dame itself ,all the human characters are involved with it and the story revolves about it.

I found that there are very few remotely likable characters in this story, Quasimodo is probably the closest but he gets much sympathy because of his deformity which has made him totally rejected by society.

Esmeralda is a rather silly little girl, which she is of course she is being in her mid teens and then there is Archdeacon Frollo, who even though he saved Quasimodo as a baby and raised him is evil.

In the middle of the novel, Hugo digresses into an essay arguing that prior to the invention of the printing press architecture was how man expressed his learned knowledge from other cultures to the masses  i.e incorporating  designs noted on travels and brought back from military campaigns. ( This explanation is mine and is wildly simplifying what is argued)

He then states that the invention of the printing press is the greatest of all inventions. (An argument that still stands today).  With the printing press knowledge became available to more than the religious orders, observations from afar were able to be described simply,ideas were argued,messages spread and therefore the demise of architecture across Europe began to decline.

After this essay the story returns to the characters we have have been introduced to, as stated the majority are unlikable and their fates didn't elicit any sympathy from myself with the exception of Esmeralda who was treated rather harshly which is probably a wild under statement

My fun fact from the novel was learning the true meaning of "Truant" -i.e. someone who chooses to be a beggar rather than someone who begs out of necessity.

This is a great novel, uplifting its not probably because the characters are so obviously human with all their faults and vanities its like looking in a mirror.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


This is an hilarious satire on the British upper class set in the period between the wars.  The attitudes and snobbishness of the upper class taken to the nth degree.

Polly Montdore, daughter of one of England's wealthiest families, shows no inclination to marry despite many attempts to match make by her mother, that is until she announces to friends and family she is going to marry her recently widowed uncle.  This is where the trouble starts.

The story is told through the eyes of Polly's distant cousin, Fanny,who comes from a titled family but without the immense wealth. Our narrator fills us in on the daily lives of the upper classes in great detail and keeps it amusing throughout.

Polly's mother is a wonderful snob and a highlight of the book.

Back in the Long Gallery some of the women went upstairs to 'powder their' noses.  Lady Montdore was scornful. ' I go in the morning,' she said,' and that is that. I don't have to be let out like a dog at intervals, thank goodness- there;s nothing so common, to my mind".

or this gem:

And if I might offer you a little advice Fanny, it would be to read fewer books,dear, and make your house slightly more comfortable.  that is what a man appreciates in the long run.'

I laughed all the way through this and it got even better when the delightfully camp Cedric appears. This is a delight, even the introduction  by Alan Cumming is great.

I also recommend Mitford's collection of letters between her and Evelyn Waugh, laugh out loud funny and very pointed.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


Young Edmond Dantes is looking forward to a big week.  He is about to be promoted to ships captain and he is to  be married shortly to the love of his life.  Things couldn't be going better until three people conspire to have him imprisoned.  He is locked up in solitary confinement and forgotten for 14 years.

During this time he manages to make contact with an old priest in the next door dungeon.  The priest tells him of a fantastical treasure that he is aware of which awaits them if they can escape. Edmond eventually does escape and locates the treasure.

This treasure along with the education the priest has given him enable him to set out on the path of revenge against those who betrayed him.

This is a very complicated and brutal revenge involving many European locations and people which makes for a wonderful novel.

I've seen this described as a children's book but it contains adult themes which are not bed time reading for the kids, suicide, murder etc. There are many abridged versions of this book in the market but this full unabridged version needs to be read which runs 1200 -1400 pages depending on the edition.

Of course there are contrivances to keep the story and plot on target but this is a novel and novels do that.

There are religious themes and a moral lesson that is brought home at the end but the main point this makes apart from being very entertaining is never ever give up hope.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

IVANHOE - Sir Walter Scott

In days of old when Knights were bold and as susceptible to temptation and stupidity as the rest of us.

Set one hundred years after the Norman conquest of England, we have an occupied country ruled by Normans.  King Richard is in prison and his brother Prince John is ruling for his own ends.

Wilfred of Ivanhoe is the son of a Saxon Lord but is out of favour with his father because he's been off at the Crusades with the Norman King Richard The Lion Heart, who as mentioned is a prisoner off shore.

We have a Friar Tuck, a  Locksley who splits the arrow with one of his own at the games-Locksley of course invents as Robin of Sherwood toward the end.

The book itself  is more about Issac the Jew and his daughter Rebecca, these two are the main catalysts for events. religion plays a large part in the story, the astounding ignorance shown by believers is staggering and these are the same problems that plague us today.

There are lots of minor characters,Wamba the Jester, Gurth the Swineherd and many Knights Templar who all add a lot to this tale.

The book is 600 odd pages and does drag a bit in the middle where Scott gets a bit verbose and tries to put too much history into the yarn, history which evidently is debatable as to whether its true or not,  but is finishes well and is genuinely exciting.

It s a great wee adventure story and not a children's book by any stretch, even if it was I'd have still read it.

This is one of those book that we had at school in abridged form when I was 8 or 9, very glad to have read the entire thing.

Sunday, July 12, 2015


This is number ten in the 'Bernie Gunther' series.  This time Bernie is sent on a mission by Goebbels to locate the father of a Yugoslavian film star . The father needs to be located because the 'star' won't work unless dear old dad is located.

From this premise we have  a couple of murders which Bernie gets involved in, meet a particularly nasty Croatian killer and go along on another of Bernie's love affairs.

If you've never come across this series, the back story is Bernie is a ex-Berlin detective serving in the SD. He is continually roped in to assist the Nazi hierarchy solve problems.  He does the work to stay alive and generally gets a result which keeps his masters happy and allows him to live with his conscience.

I've read the series from the get go and apart from one real dud these stories are consistently entertaining with decent general history thrown in. I always remind myself when I finish one of these books that the world must never be allowed to forget the Nazi's- the fact that gangsters took over an entire country is staggering.

The good news is I've had the pleasure of  briefly meeting Mr Kerr and was told that the series is to continue, which is brilliant.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A FAREWELL TO ARMS - Ernest Hemingway

Frederick Henry is an American soldier serving as a Ambulance driver for the Italian Army in the First World War.

Through a colleague he meets Catherine Barkley , a British nurse.  This book is the story of their love affair with the war as a back drop.

Shortly after the initial meeting Henry is seriously wounded and the affair blossoms as Catherine nurses him and becomes his lover.  The wounding is what occurred to Hemingway in real life and he supposedly went on record as the first American to be wounded in WWI.

The affair continues and Henry eventually deserts to be with Catherine due to her pregnancy.

The Hemingway I like -the short punchy sentences - is here but in my opinion the book can't decide whether its a full on romance or full on on war novel and ends up not being either.

I began to struggle with this with about a third of the book to go, I stuck it out but it dragged for me after a promising start.  And like Graham Greene , Hemingway won't leave tired from laughing.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A POINT OF VIEW - Clive James

Between 2007 and 2009 Clive James was one of several people who took part in a 10 minute slot on the BBC espousing their views on various topics- A Point of View.

This book is the collection of the 60 broadcasts.  The original text is printed and then there is a post script added by the author prior to this being published.

As normal with anything Jamesien its brilliant-funny, cynical, well researched and hits its target every time.

There are myriad of topics covered- Harry Potter, the golf ball potato crisp, Dairy of a London Call Girl, soccer (football).  My favourite started about futurologist Herman Khan.  Herman was prone to making claims about the future, what will be happening in 20 or 25 or 35 years times. Clive concludes the most impressive thing about Hermie was it made Hermie sound impressive and that is all.  The topic then segues into climate change.  Clive and I agree on the " man made climate change" brouhaha , we are not fans.

There is something for everyone here- I believe the programmes themselves are still up on his web site-

Lastly, not wishing an earlier demise than is already underway for Mr James, who is very ill, I will mourn him for the fact the the world needs quick witted intelligent cynics like him and Hitchens.

When you read both they make you realize we humans are rather puffed up dweebs who need to laugh more at ourselves.

This collection is gold.