Book Review – Conclave by Robert Harris

A thriller. But not your conventional terrorism, cops and robbers, psychological mayhem style thriller. No, this is a gentle paced, gently building, teasing and prodding tale. The demographic of the gathering conclave gradually revealed as cardinals from around the world arrive in Rome. Charged with the responsibility of electing a new Pope from within their midst, they are removed from the outside world and its potential influence and guided through the process by the protagonist of the tale, Cardinal Lomeli.

Lomeli is a likeable and amiable chap, but his unspoken subtext nudges at your suspicions throughout the rather cleverly red trimmed pages. I do like a touchy feely, quirkily presented tome.

This is no less a thriller for its apparent easy pace. It builds and builds, like Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, constantly hinting at, then prolonging the wait for, the tensions to be unfurled. The delicate interplay between this collection of men, some fiercely ambitious, some deceptively quiet, others openly self promoting is treated with a tender touch by Harris. I found myself gradually having favourites and trying to guess ahead the colour of the smoke from each ballot result.

As a would-be-author (!) I was taken by the detail, the filling in of backgrounds, the canvas appearing in my head. The research undertaken in order to present such an unusual subject matter with careful and considered attention to the intricacies of the process is awe-inspiring.

For a thriller to contain little in the way of violence, and still be so gripping is testament to the clever delivery of seemingly gentile ugliness of some of the characters behaviour. The story unfolds in chronological order, neatly tying each unsuccessful ballot to the next.

I’ve always said I’m best entertained by songs written by songwriters and sung by singers. The same goes for books. This is definitely written by a writer. I rattled through it and enjoyed the cameo appearance of the ‘twist’ at the end, which I certainly hadn’t seen coming.

I’m not a man of religion and found the catholic rhetoric to be simply part of story, I would be intrigued to know how more committed catholic devotees felt about reading it.

I definitely recommend this.

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Adults In The Room

A BOOK REVIEW

ADULTS IN THE ROOM by YANIS VAROUFAKIS

Whatever your political leaning, your views on the European Union, your stance on Brexit or your opinion of other European nationals and nations, THIS is an essential read.

It’s a shocking read too.

Now, as I’ve blogged before, I do tend towards (occasionally) a book of substance. I find a racy, thriller or crime mystery, or quirky, page turner irresistible,¬† but tend to alternate between those and something which thumps my brain into inquisition.

Adults In The Room, certainly managed to do that! Varoufakis was, very briefly, the finance minister for Greece. He attempted to oversee a re-financing of Greece’s debts and negotiate terms with the remainder of Europe for a fairer and more forward thinking solution to the apparently ‘bankrupt’ state of Greece at the time.

You have to stay with him on his explanations of both the financial arrangements in place at the time and those of his proposals. There was plenty of re-reading as I tried my absolute hardest to be fully informed, before judging how I felt about what I was reading.

He also, essentially in my opinion, broke down to a room by room, committee by committee, country by country description of the mechanics of the European Union and its associated financial institutions, councils and groups. Truly, it was a revelation. I believed myself to be fairly well informed and versed with the world, but the whole deep, dark and murky world revealed in Adults In The Room, was as enlightening to me as it was terrifying. And still is.

Varoufakis has a confidence about his words, a purposeful, relentlessly positive thrust to project his beliefs, desires and understanding. In fact, by half way through the book I was amazed he hadn’t already thrown the towel in!

Due to the (necessarily) technical nature of much of the book, it’s not a rolling, smooth ride through the pages (such as the last political memoir I read – John Bew’s extraordinary biography of Clement Attlee, Citizen Clem,¬†reviewed on THIS BLOG POST). As I have said, there needs to be some re-reading if you’re trying to devour this as your eyes droop and your head drops on the pillow at night. BUT, it’s worth the effort.

I found Yanis’s explanations gave me an insight and understanding I would never have believed myself capable of achieving. Having this greater understanding then released my mind to enjoy the sociological and societal ideologies so thoughtfully delivered here.

Having set my stall out to only review books I enjoy, I can, without reservation, recommend this important and engaging modern political…… er, farce? thriller? mystery? dystopia? It’s hard to actually BELIEVE how ridiculous some of the exchanges between supposed ‘grown ups’ can be.

Varoufakis serves his confidently delivered prose with a healthy side of humility, a bright eyed belief in ‘people’. His enthusiasm for his socialist views is infectious. His realism prevents this becoming a dreamy ‘if only we all loved each other’ book aimed purely at those sharing his ideology. This is illustrated by the alliances he forms with politically unlikely bed fellows. Including some from the right of British politics.

Fascinating, terrifying yet heart warming, detailed yet not patronising, it truly is a fine thing.

For anybody with more than a passing interest in politics, or in Europe, or in Brexit, or in what those at the VERY top are really about. Or, indeed, WHO is at the very top……..

 

 

BOOK REVIEW – Day by AL Kennedy

It was quite apt РFinishing Day by A.L. Kennedy during the week of Armistice Day.

I’ve been close to Alfred as his (second world) war has been gradually revealed to me.

The story of how one man, a rear gunner, repeatedly cradled in the belly of a Lancaster, came to be. How he came to be a man. A man as labelled by his peers, his family, his lover, his own mind. How a man fell out of the sky…….

Without telling the story (and, oh, to have a 100th of the writing prowess of Kennedy with which to do so!), a young man, with a painfully troubled upbringing, escapes the abuse of his parents’ world and is a willing and committed recruit to the war machine.

Based on a film set, where Alfred is tormented by his role as an extra in a war film (a mere 4 years after WWII had ended), the narrative bounces, initially, from past to present and beyond. Potentially confusingly, I did re-read the previous sittings’ last pages until I was in tune. From there, though, I sank into the uncomfortable, yet warm cradle of its pages’ embrace.

I don’t imagine there are many ‘happy’ endings in genuine war tales, and the depth of detail on show here of the horrors of, well, life, is extraordinary. The story evolves, centred on an anguished internal dialogue. Without resorting to shock tactics, genuine terror is sketched across the canvas of the readers’ imaginations.

If, like me, you enjoy being challenged, informed, cajoled and bowled over by new (to me anyway) writing, you’ll cherish this tale. As I said, reading it at such a poignant time of year only added to the delicate, historical pleasure.

For me, the masterstroke is the gentle touch of the author’s quill on the fragile soul that is Alfred. Some of his relationships are never quite expanded upon, giving the reader scope to build the characters in their mind. The cameo of his relationship with Ivor (they run a bookshop together), provides an almost light flavour to a beautiful but truly dark mix.

Good stuff.

On-Writing-A-L-KennedyWhilst attempting to develop my writing skills, I stumbled across On Writing, also by A.L. Kennedy. I really believe we all need to delve into (a process made so much easier in the digital era) subjects which interest us in order to discover inspiration and (in this case) wander beyond the ‘Buy One Get One Half Price’ table in Waterstones……..