2 + 2 = Variety

Two books plus two films, a diversity of genres and forms, with little in common: all in a weekend’s “work”.

caedmonOn Saturday I finished the last 30 or 40 pages of Peter Robinson’s Caedmon’s Song.
Kirsten is making her way home after celebrating the completion of her studies at a northern university. She wakes in hospital after suffering a horrific attack.
As the months pass, during her slow recovery, several young students are murdered, presumably by the same attacker.
There is pressure to break through the suppression of her memories of her own attack, in the hope of identifying the man and bring his killing to an end.

Alongside Kirsten’s story the book also follows Martha Browne, visiting the northern coastal town of Whitby, claiming to be researching a book, but keen to keep to herself as she plans for some kind of mission aided by her “spirit guides”.

Robinson said that the book was partly inspired by the case of the Yorkshire Ripper, and the question of how a surviving victim of a serial killer might respond to their survival and recovery.

lady Later on Saturday I started reading Lady in Waiting another book that alternates between two stories. In the present day Jane Lindsay is struggling with the seeming breakdown of her marriage, when her husband takes a job in a another city.
In the past there is the story of Lucy Day, a young seamstress working for Lady Jane Grey.

The two stories are brought together by the discovery of a ring hidden in the spine of a centuries old prayer book bought as stock for Jane’s antique shop.
The title “Lady in Waiting”, could be applied to Jane Lindsay, waiting for her husband’s return to the marriage; to Lucy Day, waiting on her Lady Jane; or to Lady Jane herself, waiting to find out the future planned for her by her family.

I’ve had a five decade interest in Lady Jane Grey since I read or heard about her as a pre-teen in the late 1960s. She is the forgotten first Queen of England, whose reign lasted just over a week.
She was the chosen successor of the Protestant Edward VI who wanted to deny his Roman Catholic sister Mary from taking the throne after his death. Jane, Edward’s cousin, was an educated and devout Christian in regular correspondence with leading protestant theologians in Europe.

Mary’s military support made Jane’s position untenable and Jane was executed on Mary’s orders early the following year, at the age of 16.

Swallows_and_Amazons_(2016_film)Swallows and Amazons is a classic children’s book that I’ve never had the opportunity to read.
A year or two ago I started to watch an old film version of the story, but lost interest only half an hour in.

On Saturday Gloria bought this new version on DVD, A wonderful film in which the Walker children face dangers, imagined and real, during a holiday in the Lake District of northern England.
They sail their boat “Swallow” to a an island to camp out for the night, but find the island has already been claimed by the “Amazons”, a group of locals.

As the rivalry between the Swallows and the Amazons intensifies, they find themselves being drawn to work together to face a more serious, common enemy.

Set in the 1930s, it s story that wouldn’t translate to a present day setting, where children would be discouraged from pursuing risky outdoor adventure, even if they could be torn away from the digital adventures pursued in the comfort and safety of their own homes.

 

downsizingDownsizing is another film Gloria found on Saturday morning.
I wasn’t really interested in seeing it, and almost halfway into the film I was wondering why I’d bothered.

As the human population increases the harm it does to the planet, scientists discover a way to “downsize” people and animals – basically shrink them to a fraction of their natural size.
This is seen as a potential life-saver for the planet. Reduce the population in size and reduce the consumption of resources as well as reduce the resulting waste footprint.

The major enticement to encourage potential recruits for the project is the promise of more affluent lives in custom made small communities. Current basic finances convert to the equivalent of millions of dollars in a community where a few metres of land are the equivalent of several acres when the scale difference is taken into account and the “downsized” people can live in mansions that would previously been the size of a doll house.

The first part of the film concentrates on the wonders associated with the downsizing opportunities, using some interesting special effects to show the interaction between people of vastly different scales. Downsizing is presented as a favourable option with no down-side; apart from one or two hints that its outcome may not fully be what it is presented to be.

There are occasional hints of political unrest – with questions being raised about the legal rights of downsized people. They consume so little, and therefore contribute so much less to a consumer driven society, so should they have equal voting rights?
And it becomes clear that downsizing can be misused and abused by Governments as well as by less than honourable corporate groups.

Matt Damon plays Paul Safranek, who, along with his wife, choose to downsize. Safranek soon finds that he may have made a mistake in making that irreversible choice.

As I said, after half of the film I was wondering about the point of it all, but then the film took a significant turn. That change came about with the introduction of a Vietnamese character, Ngoc Lan Tran, played by Hong Chau.
She gives the film a spark it was lacking and brings it to life, a Jesus worshipping woman devoted to serving the less fortunate.
Through her Safranek starts to see another side to the downsizing programme. Alongside the advertised affluence, there is a hidden world of poverty, making their new world no different to the one they’d chosen to leave behind, where affluence is enjoyed at the expense of many who are usually unnoticed.

It is a clear film of two halves. The second part turned it from something self-indulgently forgettable into something thought provokingly memorable. It’s something that has stayed with me since I saw it on Saturday evening.

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Beersheba and “God’s Work”

Paul Daley (see previous post) wrote an interesting historical account of the Beersheba charge in today’s Guardian, which includes the following observation:

The charge, coincidentally, narrowly preceded the British war cabinet’s proclamation of the Balfour declaration in support of a Jewish state in Palestine. Such was the alignment of these pivotal moments in Middle East – and global – history that some evangelists and Christian Zionists have claimed that the light horsemen were somehow doing “God’s work” in re-establishing a Jewish homeland, as biblically prophesied.

This has always seemed utterly fanciful to me. While some horsemen certainly knew of the places they were traversing (Nazareth, Jerusalem, Bethlehem) from the Bible, there was nothing to suggest in the hundreds of letters and diaries I’ve read that any saw themselves as actively doing God’s work.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/postcolonial-blog/2017/oct/30/beersheba-centenary-lets-remember-that-story-is-not-the-same-as-history

 

I find Daley’s view expressed in the above quote is extremely naïve.

It doesn’t surprise me that the participants would have no idea of what role they may have been playing in God’s purposes and their ignorance of it can’t be offered as evidence of the claim’s lack of validity. Man’s knowledge and complicity aren’t determining factors of truth.

Mankind increasingly sees history in political and cultural terms, driven only by man’s decisions and actions, that the future is in our own hands, governed by our own choices. Any thought of God or any Divine intentions are mostly ignored or ridiculed.

Even many who acknowledge God’s reality tend to sideline Him, making God more of a spectator than someone with an active interest in His creation. They overlook the possibility that he may actual have a very defined purpose in mind for this world and its inhabitants, and that man’s actions will not and can not change that ultimate purpose. Instead, God is more than capable of using any of mankind’s actions (including the evils of war) to move towards His purposes being realised.

 

 

As I wrote elsewhere:

Mankind wasn’t driven along an unavoidable predestined path to war. War came about through choices, freely made by sinful mankind. The extent of man’s sin was displayed in the horrific acts committed and the resulting conditions arising from those acts; some of which I’ve described quite graphically in an earlier post.

God did not cause or ordain those acts, but He was more than able to USE those acts to further His purposes. He is more than willing to give mankind over to the consequences of our own choices, and will even give us a helping hand in achieving or obtaining what we’ve chosen in place of Him. (refer Romans 1:24-32 and 2 Thess 2:11-12)

What mankind meant for evil, God could turn around for His good, to move a few steps towards the fulfilment of His eternal plans.

https://onesimusfiles.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/anzacs-and-wwi-part-5-the-part-god-played/

 

 

Edith Cavell: Faith before the firing squad, by Catherine Butcher

Edith Cavell: Faith before the firing squad, by Catherine Butcher.

Edith Cavell was an English nurse who helped establish a nursing school in Brussels, at a time when nursing practice in Belgium had low standards and little community respect. Cavell sought to change all of that by training young women to the same kind of standard she had learned during her own training in London and through her experience as a practising nurse in Britain. In 1907 she accepted the role of matron at the new training school in Brussels.

edith-cavellIn 1914 Germany invaded Belgium, thereby drawing Britain, allies of Belgium, into the First World War. Cavell chose to stay in Brussels with her trainee nurses and helped to look after wounded troops from both sides.

When wounded French, British and Belgian soldiers were in danger of being killed by the German invaders, she started to help the Belgian resistance to get them to safety across the Dutch border.
In August 1915 she was arrested and two months later was tried, sentenced to death and shot by firing squad.

This book tries to piece together a part of Cavell’s life that has probably been omitted from many other biographies: the way her Christian faith prepared her to face premature death.

The author looks at the religious routine Cavell followed throughout her life, first as the daughter of a Church of England vicar, and later as a continuing part of her daily devotions, following the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, and readings from other devotional books known to be used by Cavell.

Apart from Cavell’s own story, the book touches on the role of religious practice across general society, particularly within a hospital environment, where it is said that prayer and bible reading were the essential starting point of each day in the wards.
How things have changed!

Cavell was shot at dawn on the 12th October 1915.

“Her last glimpse of life on earth would be the gloomy mists of an autumn dawn in Belgium. Her expectation was that in the ‘twinkling of an eye’ she would be in the presence of Jesus.”

Game by Trevor Shearston

GameGame is a novel imagining the last months of bushranger Ben Hall.

Structured around real events, Shearston’s book tries to see the man behind the legend. Throughout we are taken to imagined meetings between Hall and his son who is being brought up by Hall’s estranged wife.

Those meetings help to humanise Hall, who in the past, depending on the source, has usually been turned into either a wronged farmer driven to a life of crime, or demonised as a ruthless callous thug.

The former view attributes his waywardness to persecution by local law enforcers (the traps), who through wrongful imprisonment and by burning down his home, contributed to the breakdown of his marriage, the loss of relationship with his son, and drove him to crime as a way to survive and fight back against the injustices done to him.

The latter sees him as a willing participant in an audacious robbery that still rates as one of the most profitable crimes in Australia’s history; after which he was briefly jailed, but soon released without charge.  His wife DID leave him. His home WAS burned down. But that was after he’d already chosen the criminal path that saw him join forces with a progression of accomplices to conduct robberies, take over towns and eventually led to murder (though Hall himself reportedly killed no none).

Edmund Parry's grave. Gundagai NSW

Edmund Parry’s grave. Gundagai NSW (photo by Onesimus)

This book starts in the last year of  the Hall gang’s short but prolific crime spree, when a coach robbery goes wrong and one of the police guards (Edmund Parry) is killed. Therefore some of the major and quite spectacular incidents of Hall’s career don’t get a mention in Shearston’s novel.

But the book isn’t intended to be a catalogue of increasingly audacious exploits that could glorify the man and his accomplices. Game presents a sad image of a man longing for change: leaving his life of crime,  winning the love of his son and regaining a life free of pursuit.

It shows the grim reality of a life continually on the run, of hiding out in the bush, in caves, or on occasion in the homes (or barns) of sympathisers.
The latter increasingly rarely, as rewards for Hall’s capture increase, combined with heavier penalties for those giving aid make it harder to know who can be trusted.

At times I felt sections of the book were clumsily constructed. Here and there I had to back track through a sentence or two because the first reading didn’t read “right” – the words didn’t immediately flow. That might have been the outcome of trying to give the  language a period relevance, with a cadence suited to the era.

But despite that difficulty, I really enjoyed the book. Some of that enjoyment came from the familiarity of the settings. Many of Hall’s crimes were carried out around my local area and I know the towns and landscape referred to in the book quite well, so it was easy to picture it all.

In fact, when Gloria and I were planning to move from Sydney out into the country, it was partly Ben Hall that drew us to our current home town. I’d been reading about his life, and wanted to see some of the places he’d frequented. Our current home is in a town we discovered during that trip.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. After the reading.

MissPeregrineMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children fulfilled the expectations built up by Gloria’s recommendation.

I started reading it on Friday evening after work and finished it mid-Sunday afternoon. I now have to wait who knows how long for Gloria to finish reading the second book of the series.

big fishAt the beginning of the book I couldn’t help think of the Tim Burton film, Big Fish, the story of a boy turned man who had grown to realise that the stories his father had told him throughout his life were at best exaggerated and more likely complete fantasies. The father’s continued insistence of the truth of his tall tales caused a rift in the relationship.

Miss Peregrine’s starts with the relationship between the Jacob and his grandfather Abe, and like the father in Big Fish, Abe seems to be a teller of tall tales with amazing stories of his early life.

As he enters his teens, Jacob begins to doubt the stories of the “peculiar children” that Abe grew up with in an idyllic house “protected by a wise old bird”; a refuge and safe haven from the monsters he’d escaped from in Europe.

Jacob begins to understand that Abe’s stories about his past are covering dark, very real experiences of a Jewish boy escaping from the Nazis and their east European death camps. But when Jacob himself seems to come face to face with one of his grandfather’s monsters, that understanding, as well as the safe but boring life planned out for him suddenly collapses. Plagued by nightmares he is referred to a psychiatrist to try to bring rationality back to his life.

As part of his road to recovery, he is taken to a small island off the coast of Wales, the location of Abe’s childhood refuge, to find the truth behind the fantasies, and hopefully restore his own sense of reality.

PeregrineThroughout, the book is illustrated with slightly weird historical photos that play a part in Jacob’s discovery of the truth, not only about his grandfather’s past, but also about his own life.

The author used genuine historical photos as inspiration for the book’s characters, especially the “peculiar children” of the title. In a short interview at the end of the book he tells us how he’d wondered who the people in the photos were “- but the photos were old and anonymous and there was no way to know. So I thought: If I can’t know the real stories, I’ll make them up.”

He cleverly spins these imaginative biographies into a compelling, intriguing story with elements of history, fantasy, horror and adventure that are grounded in a familiar, everyday world. He takes us beyond the edge of the familiar and recognisable and shines light onto things overlooked and ignored; those things we push away to maintain the security we find in predictable rationality.

After starting this book I found that the memories it stirred of a Tim Burton film had a degree of spookiness (insert brief excerpt of Twilight Zone theme). The cover of the book announces it is “SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE”, what it doesn’t say is that Tim Burton is behind that project.

That doesn’t surprise me.

Miss_Peregrine_Film_Poster

A Rose for the Anzac Boys

a-rose-for-the-anzac-boys

In A Rose for the Anzac Boys  Jackie French vividly depicts the horror and heartbreak of battle at the Western Front during WWI. While not glorifying the violence, she doesn’t compromise at all with the gruesome truth of it.

The story concentrates on Margery (Midge) MacPherson and her experiences in France, serving tired and wounded troops near the front lines.

When war starts, Midge is away from her New Zealand home and lives at a school for girls in England. She and her English school friends decide to leave school so they can play their part in the war effort by setting up a canteen for the troops in France, not realising how much their lives will be changed.

Partly told in the form of letters, the realities of war are made clear, as Midge corresponds with family and friends at home and at the battle front. I found the letters to be a powerful and convincing part of the book, fitting in naturally with the ongoing narrative of Midge’s story. They had an authenticity comparable to the real letters and diary entries I’ve read before and were some of the more moving portions of the books. Maybe my desk at work during tea and lunchbreaks wasn’t the best time and place to read these sections.

While the book is set behind the lines, some of the letters from soldiers give us a glimpse of life and death at the front, while Midge’s experiences take us into the world of the many volunteers who worked as caterers, ambulance drivers, VADs and nurses. We see that few were left unaffected by the cost of the war and that the effects continue through following generations.

After the story, French includes a 19 page “author’s note” to give some historical  context to Midge’s story, bringing to the reader’s attention the neglected, but significant role women played during World War I.

How many women fought in World War I?

We’ll never know. But there were thousands, or even million – as many, perhaps as the men who fought there too.

Few women in World War I carried weapons. But these days we say a soldier ‘fought’ in World War I or II if they were in transport, or administration, and not just one of the relatively small portion of soldiers who actually faced the enemy. The women of World War I fought in other ways, and often in battles as hard as the men’s. And most their war was unrecorded.

 

VAD

With a degree of poignant synchronicity, I read the last part of the book on the 100th anniversary of the battle of Fromelles, probably the most tragic single day in Australia’s military history, where almost 2,000 Australian troops lost their lives and many thousands more were wounded. There were more Australian casualties on that one day than in all post WWII campaigns combined.

 

(see my other blog for more about Fromelles: https://onesimusfiles.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/battle-of-fromelles-centenary/  )

The author’s web page related to the book:  http://www.jackiefrench.com/#!a-rose-for-the-anzac-boys/o3kat

Publisher’s page :  http://www.harpercollins.com.au/9780732285401/a-rose-for-the-anzac-boys/

 

Schindler’s Ark, by Thomas Keneally

Schindler's ArkThis is my 300th book read, since starting this blog in November 2009.

I wanted to mark my triple century with something of significance and worth, and thought this book met those conditions.

As a Booker prize winner it has literary recognition. As the inspiration for an Oscar winning film it gained a wider appreciation and appeal.

And the book’s topic and themes make it worthwhile representative of many of the books preceding it on my reading list.

Literature, war, Jewish history and the extremes of human nature;  some of the significant characteristics of the other books I’ve read in the past (almost) 7 years.

Schindler's ark 2

I’ve had this book for a long time, firstly in a paperback released as a movie tie-in, with of course the changed title of Schindler’s List. And then I came across the first (Australian) hardcover edition illustrated above. I bought it and gave the other one to my mum.

The book then sat on my bookshelf for a few years unread – until now.

In the beginning Keneally makes it clear that his book is not a history book, but a novel based on historical research and personal interviews with many of the people who appear in it as “characters”. I’m not entirely sure of the distinction he tries to make. It doesn’t seem any different to many of the military histories I’ve read over the past year. Maybe he wanted to distance his book from potential readers’ assumptions about the dryness of history telling.

Now that I’ve committed myself to making this my 300th book – it’s restricting me from starting something else alongside it, just in case I forget myself and finish that “something else” first.

 

 

 

schindler