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Category Archive for 'England'

British author Andrew Miller creates a unique novel, one which breaks all the “rules” of structure, character, and plot but still manages to engage and involve the reader. In The Crossing, Miller maintains the clean prose and stunning descriptions for which he has always been noted, but here he accomplishes the nearly impossible feat of keeping the main character herself a mystery for the entire novel, a person with seemingly no personality or observable feelings for other people and no commitment to those around her, a “heroine” who is in no way heroic. Following a serious accident to Maud Stamp, main character, while she and Tim Rathbone are both working to restore a boat, as members of the university sailing club, Tim brings Maud to her apartment. In this first part, a domestic drama, Maud and Tim eventually set up housekeeping in a small house near his parents, and she remains committed to her job doing medical research out of town while he works on a concerto at home. Years pass, and gradual changes occur in their lives. Then a horrific accident upsets their world. Maud’s response is to take the boat which she and Tim have restored, a Nicholson 32, and set out to sea. This middle part of the novel is an exciting adventure story of Maud against nature as she battles huge storms at sea while heading south in the Atlantic from England, emulating a heroine, Nicolette Milnes Walker. She eventually lands somewhere in South America and is found by orphan children living in a kind of religious commune, adding a symbolic element to the novel which introduces some feelings to Maud. The conclusion may leave readers thinking about all the possible meanings of the ending.

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If you think that the machinations, the rumor-mongering, and the outright lies we have seen in the latest election cycle in the United States is as bad as it gets, take a look at journalist John Preston’s latest book of non-fiction about a scandal in England in the 1960s and 1970s. Subtitled “Sex, Lies, and a Murder Plot in the Houses of Parliament,” Preston’s thoroughly researched and dramatically presented study of MP Jeremy Thorpe and his small coterie of friends and family, both in and out of government, gives new meaning to the idea of political egotism, at the same time that it illustrates a British sense of reserve and a respect for privacy that has now vanished from the press and our own twenty-first century lives. At a time in which there was no internet, no reality TV, and no desire to destroy lives in order to sell newspapers with stories based solely on rumor, Jeremy Thorpe’s crimes would not come to a head and result in a trial until seventeen years had elapsed from his first contact with Norman Scott. Scott claims to have been a victim of rape by Thorpe when he was twenty, followed by several years of homosexual contact, both of which were against the law in the UK in 1960 when the relationship began. NIneteen years would pass before Scott would be vindicated. During that time Jeremy Thorpe came close to being named Prime Minister.

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I have to admit that when I read the premise of this novel, I cringed, thinking that it sounded too “cute”- even effete – to be taken seriously; author Ian McEwan relates this entire novel from the point of view of an unborn baby, nine months in the womb. Describing his “living room” with its cramped quarters within his mother Trudy’s belly, the unborn child points out that he has a surprising amount of control over his life, that he can overhear every conversation involving his mother, that he can participate in every physical act involving her, and that he likes his father, John, a poet, even though his mother has left him for a new lover, his father’s younger brother Claude. In the first pages of the novel, the baby tells us that his mother and Claude are planning a “dreadful event,” but the reader is not told the details of what that event is until after the author has described their characters and laid the groundwork for the action, something to do with “poison.” From this scenario within the first forty pages of the book, all the complications evolve for the remainder of the novel. McEwan’s descriptions, often hilarious, keep the reader completely involved, despite the obvious ironies and absurdities, as the baby-narrator develops a plan for revenge on his uncle and his mother – not for their plans to poison his father but for their betrayal in wanting the baby “placed” after its birth. A light-handed parody of Hamlet which stands on its own as a modern comedy with a tour de force ending.

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Author C. B. George, a mysterious author who provides no biographical information and no photograph, tells a story of contemporary Zimbabwe, still being ruled after almost thirty-six years by dictator Robert Mugabe, now aged ninety-two. President for over thirty years, he has been a one-party ruler, famed for his appropriation of white-owned lands and their redistribution to black farmers and political allies, the disappearance and death of political enemies, the use of terror, and gross human rights abuses, all to enforce his will and to ensure the retention of his office and his wealth. Author C. B. George, who lives in the UK, according to the book jacket, presents the narratives of three couples who represent different aspects of contemporary life in Zimbabwe, primarily in the capital of Harare. The author’s sense of drama and his ability to pace the narrative to keep the reader continuously involved in the lives of his characters, while simultaneously focusing on the attempts of these people and their families to lead “normal” lives, suggests that he may have a background in television or film. An unusual vision of Zimbabwe, one of the most corrupt nations in the world.

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I grew up with stories of the Titanic, as did my sisters, and they have been part of my family’s life since the beginning. My mother was born the night the Titanic hit the iceberg – on April 14, 1912 – a fact imprinted on us from birth. Shortly after midnight that night, the Titanic sank with a loss of over fifteen hundred passengers. Those who are students of the Titanic will already know something that hobbyists and people like my sisters and me might never have learned without a book like this one, something that is, in many ways, even more dramatic than the sinking of the Titanic itself: The Titanic was not alone at sea as it was sinking. There was another ship not ten miles away – the S.S. Californian – a ship which might have saved hundreds of passengers if it had gone to the rescue. The Californian’s crew saw the distress signals and the changes in the appearance of the Titanic’s on-deck lights, and though they informed the captain of what they saw, he never gave the order to go to the Titanic’s aid and never even came up to the bridge. This recently released “novel,” based on facts, is primarily the story of this ship, the Californian, its captain and crew, and why it never became the savior of some of the fifteen hundred who died.

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