Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan

This is not an easy book to understand or to review. It does not fit into any known genre, there is no mystery in the normal sense; while there are murders, we know who committed them. Is it a love story? Not at all, but the book blurb thinks so. It is an historical novel, but more of a surrealistic history of a penal settlement, overlaid with humour and irony. The story is told by a felon, Billy Gould who portrays himself as nothing more than a lying rascal, yet he reveals himself in his own words to be educated and moral. If you have read James Joyce’s Ulysses, then you might have something to compare this novel with, but few people have actually read Ulysses, (apart from the final section) so there is not much help there. But if you have, then there are definite similarities in the word play, the metaphors, the allusions, the irony. Gould’s Book of Fish — should you read it — will probably be the most bizarre book you will read in the next 10 years. Is it worthwhile you ask. Yes, it is worth the effort, because it is an interesting, unusual, poetic,… Continue reading

Against their will

Book cover, Against their will

AGAINST THEIR WILL  is the story of Conscientious Objectors during World War 1 in England. This is a fictional account based on actual events. Conscientious objectors were opposed to the war, seeing it as a war for no purpose, a war based on propaganda, a war about chauvinism and prejudice, a war let loose by the failure of international diplomats. It was not a war to end war, but a war to create animosity and new hatred. Some conscientious objectors opposed it on religious grounds, but they were also treated as though they were aiding the enemy. Those who refused to be conscripted where vilified, cursed as cowards, imprisoned, bashed, tortured, treated as traitors, and sometimes killed in one way or another. There was no sympathy for those who refused to aid the war effort. And yet the C.O.s continued in their opposition to the war, despite the pressure, despite the hatred directed at them. This story has another aspect, that of occultism, Kevin Darwin while in prison, has various psychic experiences. He meets the mysterious Gita Lume, who appears to have uncanny powers and knowledge about his deepest secrets. The army, concerned about the number of conscientious objectors, trialed… Continue reading

Regeneration by Pat Barker

This book is set during WW1 in England. It makes use of the factual poets Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Robert Graves. Fact and fiction are mixed together in this story about the psychological damage done to soldiers during the First World War. The issue of opposing the war is also discussed, since Siegfried Sassoon, one of the most famous of WW1 poets, opposed the war publicly. Those injured soldiers who opposed the merciless killing were equated with cowards and shirkers. The only apparent option for them was to return to the front in France to demonstrate they were not afraid. When Siegfried Sassoon was wounded in France he returned to England. Wilfred Owen felt he should replace Sassoon at the front so he could report independently on what conditions were like. He returned to France and was killed a week before the end of the war. His mother received the dreaded telegram the same day the church bells were ringing out proclaiming the end of the war. In the novel Regeneration, Rivers is a psychiatrist who treats men who were damaged psychologically by their experiences in the war. The men were often injured mentally as well as physically, yet… Continue reading

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelo

BOOK, I know why the caged bird sings

                Book review, Marcus Clark This is an autobiographical account of a young black girl growing up in the American South during the 1930s and 40s. Maya lived with her grandmother for some years. During this time the grandmother owned a grocery shop for blacks. Not only ran it, but made it profitable even during the depression. They were not rich by white standards, but were close to it by black standards. During the depression the grandmother lent money to a white dentist, which allowed him to keep his practice. But ten years later he refused to treat Maya, saying, “. . . I’d rather stick my hand in a dog’s mouth than in a nigger’s.” Maya, who relates the events in a style like a novel, was highly intelligent, reading classics before she was ten years old. When she transferred to a school in San Francisco she jumped a whole academic year. She frequently uses descriptive expressions: “He was choosing words the way people hunt for shells.” Her story is one of hardship, poverty, violence. Maya was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend when eight years old. When the abuse… Continue reading