September Book Reviews

Adventures in Two Worlds – A J Cronin: Autobiographical, but not dry facts and memories – so far to the other side that at times it was like fiction and at other times maudlin. But while the beginning and end tended towards the overblown, the rest of the chapters were beautifully written scenes of life as a doctor in Scottish villages, Welsh mining towns and the wealthy and poor streets of London: entertaining, romantic, endearing and occasionally reminiscent of James Herriot. I read a few chapters – about the district nurse and her bicycle, daft Tam and his houseboat and the widow on her farm – to my parents and predictably we all got choked up.

White Rabbit – Bruce Marshall: A biography of Wing Commander F F E Yeo-Thomas, of whom I knew a little from his appearance in the pages of Leo Marks’ Between Silk and Cyanide. Cloak and dagger adventures in occupied France during World War II, parachute runs, double agents, escapes in and from p.o.w. and concentration camps, fleeing through Germany – fascinating and gripping, though with too many French phrases for me to attempt reading it out loud with anything like confidence.

A Room with a View – E M Forster: Gentle and very enjoyable, although the end takes a sudden literary turn and all the characters change their apparent character which although Meaningful isn’t necessarily Fun. But I love the slightly erratic, slightly socially-misplaced, loving and expansive Honeychurches, and their difficult relatives.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy: A father and his son’s journey on foot through the ash of a long-burned-out America. Bleak, occasionally frightening, occasionally hypnotic, with a placidly mundane streak of horror. Literary science fiction which is a genre that is usually like an unsettling dream (and, if you are used to the other sort, leaves you wanting detail of exactly how the disaster took place, and the science behind all the after-effects – but plenty of post-apocalyptic nastiness and survival on the edge of everything). Neatly and elegantly worded.

Serena – Sylvia Andrews: I brought this on myself, but I was out of Heyers and there were two regency romances in the 50c bin out the front of the Annerley community bookstore and – I still hurt a little bit, although not as much from this one as the other (which caused me to wish physical injury upon myself, of which more next month). This had all the requisite melodrama, hijinks, disguises, passion, rage, betrayal, compromised innocence &c, &c, but… it was about the romance, and written to that end (whereas Georgette Heyer is like DWJ – her stories are fabulous and cumulative disasters, of which an occasional romance is only one of the many unlikely by-products). Anyway, back to Serena: Beautiful (of course) young (white) woman from the West Indies (non-slave-owning!) who thinks she is plain (she isn’t) and old (she isn’t) escorts her younger (sillier) niece to London to give her a London Season (because you’re worth it) and while they are in boot camp in the country she isn’t allowed to ride alone so she dresses up as a boy and meets a man who finds out she is in disguise but they like each other so they keep meeting and then they meet in London but he gives her the cold shoulder when he finds out her name because his brother went to the West Indies with his wife when Serena was 14 (remember this) but Serena’s brother stole his wife and the wife told her husband she didn’t want him and so he committed suicide and then Serena’s brother told the wife he didn’t want her so she went back to England and told everyone that Serena had led her husband astray and then jilted him (I told you to remember the 14 years old part) and then had a baby who is actually Serena’s nephew but our hero (who naturally is brooding and cannot trust a woman) thinks is his nephew and is raising but his (evil, Irish) mother is convinced he is sickly and won’t let the boy walk anywhere and his terrified that Serena will expose her secret and so she enlists help (from evil! Irishmen! and our hero’s sometimes-jilted mistress) and then there are kidnappings and faked compromises of virtue and…

Worldshaker – Richard Harland: A steampunk novel, set in the claustrophobic, stratified, artificially-maintained Victorian society of the great steam-powered juggernaut/mobile city Worldshaker, which rolls across the countries. A coming of age story, and a what-is-humanity story, an above-and-below decks story, a British Public Schoolboy story and a story of revolution, violence and retribution. I would have liked to have been a bit more convinced of the feasibility of the juggernaut and the whole system and society, but this wouldn’t have bothered me at all if I hadn’t been aware of the juxtaposition of the two rival sides of the genre: the Victorian-inspired, cogs&gears fantasy on the one hand, and the questions of class and imperialism and colonialism and very real violence and death on on the other. I know Richard Harland is very aware of those two aspects, and so I suspect that dissonance was deliberate. I am keen to see how he rebuilds in the sequel what was torn down in this story (but still wanted more of the nuts & bolts of how the cogs & gears worked).