At Suvla Bay

By John Hargrave

I’ve seen men, healthy, strong, hard-faced Irishmen, blown to shreds. I’ve helped to clear up the mess. I’ve trod on dead men’s chests in the sand, and the ribs have bent in and the putrid gases of decay have burst through with a whhh-h-ff-f.

Being the notes and sketches of scenes, characters and adventures of the Dardanelles campaign, made by John Hargrave (“White Fox”) while serving with the 32nd field ambulance, X division, Mediterranean expeditionary force, during the great war.

I had never heard of John Hargrave. I have, however, heard of Gallipoli, the disastrous attempt by the British in the First World War to conquer the Bosporus — to conquer Constantinople. (Who knows? Had they succeeded, I might have been able to go to the Hagia Sophia one day for Liturgy.)

Paul Hargrave was better known under the alias ‘White Fox’. Before he enlisted in the British Army he was a scout, or so he tells us in this book. Not having heard of him, I didn’t realize he meant Baden Powell’s scouts. Oh, well.

Despite apparently being very haphazardly educated, and despite being full of disdain for his fellow men — at least for those who don’t share his fetish for outdoor life, he has written a very engaging book.

One that describes in sometimes too great detail, the life in the British Army in WW I. It’s impossible to digest his descriptions of life in the barracks in Ireland, of the complete lack of direction, command and information everywhere. I won’t try it. Since you can download this book for free from Project Gutenberg, I suggest you do so, and dip into it.

I’ll just say that this book was tremendously helpful when writing the military parts of my Work In Progess.


 

A Woman of Independent Means

By Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey

(reviewed by Irina)

I’ve always been a sucker for epistolary novels since I read Daddy Long Legs as a teenager. A Woman of Independent Means is a very good one, covering a woman’s life from fourth grade at about ten until her death at seventy-nine.

    • Author: Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey
    • Title: A Woman of Independent Means
    • Pages: 279
    • Published: 1978 (this edition 1998)

<liPublisher: Penguin Books

  • ISBN: 0-14-02-7436-7

 

Apparently it’s famous, and the copy I have from the library is the “20th anniversary edition of the beloved national bestseller with a new letter to the reader”. Well, I never know a bestseller when I smell it, not even Harry Potter when I happened to be in London about the time it first came out.

This is exquisite, though, touching and realistic, with a strong voice that clearly belongs to a strong woman. The protagonist is based partly (I suspect mostly) on the author’s grandmother, influenced by the 1970s feminist movement but without the preachiness that often comes from that.

There’s a reader’s guide at the back, which can also be found at the Penguin Putnam site; it offers a much more adequate summary of the book than I can.

Cutting the Sweetness

By Peta Tayler

Another one that goes back to the stack… I like the premise of the book. According the little library card stuck in front, it’s about a middle-aged woman who’s caught in a boring marriage. A pregnant 17-year old barges in and gingers up stuff. A situation ripe with pregnant possibilities, and my imagination was fired.

  • Author: Peta Tayler
  • Publisher: Headline
  • Published: 1996
  • Pages: 282
  • ISBN: 0-7472-1705-X

Perhaps last week (the second week of January 2003, for the record) was a better week for writing than for reading. This isn’t the only book I returned to store. I didn’t finish The Code of the Woosters, either, but that one is still on the to-read, or more accurately, the to-read-again stack. I only discontinued reading the Master’s immortal prose because I acquired Carry On, Jeeves, whereas I quit reading this book because I plain didn’t like it.

The first few pages are a bit turgid, but not devoid of imagination. The setup of the situation is adequately done: woman has married a dry, boring accountant. Accountant is fired from his job, and masks that by going to the library and hiding there. Woman has a small job on the side and enjoys that.

Everything is ready for the appearance of the promised pregant 17-year old, who, if I’d written this book, revitalizes the marriage in no uncertain way.

Except that that doesn’t happen. A lot of intrigue and stuff going on, ending with a divorce. Blech. Not imaginative at all. All books where the wife is shackled to a boring accountant-type end with divorce, and her settling down with a happy new relationship, leaving the man behind in the doldrums. It might be realistic, but it’s not interesting any more.

So I’ve put this book away, and taken up something else.

Father Frank

By Paul Burke

(reviewed by Irina)

An Irish priest in London wrestles with himself – not his vocation, but with celibacy and the fact that he doesn’t believe in God and never has. Now when have we heard that before? In the nineteen-sixties. But this book is from the twenty-first century, if only just. The premise isn’t new; the resolution isn’t, either. But the way Burke handles it is fresh enough to keep it interesting.

  • Author: Paul Burke
  • Title: Father Frank
  • Published by: Flame (Hodder & Stoughton), London
  • Year: 2001

Frank Dempsey may not believe in God, but he believes in people. I suspect that the way he drifts into the priesthood is God’s doing: where he ends up he’s the right man in the right place. But then he falls in love…

Sarah Marshall is a successful professional woman, but when she meets Frank her moral side starts to show up. And her emotional side. She knows it’s hopeless: she has God and the whole church for a rival. She doesn’t fight; but she wins.

Father Frank Dempsey breaks his vow of celibacy. They get married. And in that, the novel is exactly like any soul-searching-priest novel from the nineteen-sixties. I’d have liked to read a novel about a priest who didn’t succumb, who chose the Church over the woman, God over himself. But then, we know on page four that Frank doesn’t believe in God, though it’s clear that God believes in Frank.

That’s a minor nitpick, though. It’s a very enjoyable book and I’d like to read his second novel, Untorn Tickets, as well.

Wandelingen door Rome

By Godfried Bomans

Het is vrij eenvoudig om van een losbol te houden en inderdaad ontmoeten zij ook overal sympathie. Maar om een heilige aardig te vinden, betaalt u de prijs van zelfverwijt.

  • Author: Godfried Bomans
  • Publisher: Elsevier
  • Published: MCMLVII
  • Pages: 216

On the basis of this quote alone one would be justified to style the great Dutch author Godfried Bomans the Chesterton of the Low Countries.

Unfortunately, Bomans has never really worked out his thoughts — sometimes it seems as if he were almost afraid to investigate the things that people usually call serious, and he could never resist the temptation to be merely flippant, instead of witty.

Which is a pity, since Bomans possessed wit in spades — as the seven volumes of his collected (though not complete) works testify.

Wandelingen door ROME is a collection of about twenty essays he appears to have written while living in Rome. Some of those, like De keerzijde van Rome are sublime; others, like Waarheden als koeien peter out, go nowhere in particular.

It is nowhere as famous a book as Eric of het klein insectenboek or his fairy tales. But Bomans, a devout Roman Catholic, spends quite a bit of time in this book on his religion, and especially on the Pope of his days, Pius X, whom he loved deeply. That makes this collection of impressions — essays is too big a word — valuable for me at least.

Oh, and the translation of the teaser? It’s quite easy to love a rake, and indeed, rakes are universally beloved. But in order to like a Saint, you must pay in self-reproach.(And, yes, the original is snappier. Learn Dutch…