Lisa McInerney: The Glorious Heresies, p/b, London, John Murray, 2021 (2016)
First novel by young Irish writer Lisa McInerney lets the reader into the underbelly of city life in current day Ireland. Based on the city of Cork the novel describes the drug, crime and prostitution scene in frank and lurid detail including prison life for offenders. There is a thread of black humour throughout the novel which keeps the reader engaged and in addition there are threads of well meaning but hopeless religious do-gooders who usually end up making things worse. There is a deal of bitterness and anger thrown at the efforts of the church in this novel.
The main thread of the novel is based around school dropout Ryan Cusack, his girlfriend Karine D’Arcy, and his alcoholic and sometimes violent father. There follows a trail of teenage sexual encounters, drug addled users, brutal crime bosses, beaten up prostitutes, failed families and dodgy religious organisations.
In the final chapter there is a faint glimmer of hope from a somewhat crazed source but the glimmer is very faint and untrustworthy. This is the sort of teenage warning literature that used to be given to high school English teachers when I began my teaching career fifty years ago. I presume the intention was to warn the Year 9’s off the bad life but in my experience the outcome was titillation and little else.
If one has the view that a key purpose of good literature is to uplift the reader and bring light and hope into even the darkest trauma, then this is not the novel to read. If the writer’s purpose is to display her handling of ironic and grim humour with plenty of sex thrown in then the writer has succeeded admirably.There is a genuine task for sociologists to detail the causes and motivations of the underground criminal drug world and the task is urgent. The creation of a fiction of unredeemed hopelessness where the only light is black humour seems to me to be a pointless exercise for the reader. There are so many more important things to be doing! 2 stars
Marcel Proust: In Search of Lost Time: The Prisoner: Trans., Intro & Notes, Carol Clark, p/b, Camberwell, Penguin, 2003 (1923).
The Prisoner takes up in some detail the ongoing relationship between the Narrator (for the first time actually admitting that his name is ‘Marcel’) and his girlfriend Albertine, whom he met on vacation in Balbec way back in Book 2 (In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower). The Narrator has come to an understanding with Albertine. She will come to live with him at his parents flat in Paris and he will provide for her on the understanding that she will only leave the house under the guardianship of someone the Narrator approves of, and never at night except with the Narrator.
His purpose is to prevent her from marrying anyone else and also to stop her from behaving badly with other women. Albertine has her own bedroom but they are quite intimate with each other, sometimes sleeping in the same bed and with the Narrator regularly undressing Albertine but never actually having sexual intercourse. (This presumably to safeguard Albertine’s honour and marriageabiltiy in case the relationship breaks up, although this is never explicity stated).
Albertine has accepted these limitations on her freedom and in exchange the Narrator showers her with very expensive presents, dresses, jewellery, artworks, painting lessons, even offering to buy her a yacht which never eventuates. Thus Albertine effectively becomes the Narrator’s “prisoner” and indeed the Narrator is also “imprisoned” in the same house, keeping a wary and very jealous eye on Albertine In spite of the dislike and close attention of the Narrator’s maid Françine, Albertine finds many ways to do what she needs to do when out of the house. She is aided especially by her friend from Balbec, Andrée, whom the Narrator trusts implicitly but unwisely.
Of couse Albertine’s activities gradually come to the knowledge of the Narrator. The peculiarity of the Narrator’s behaviour with Albertine leads him to say that his behaviour would so often give the reader the impression of strange changes in direction that he would think me almost mad. (p.320f). This was often my feeling I have to admit. As the translator Carol Clark writes: “The Prisoner” is a strange mixture of the improbable and the painfully realistic.” One reason for the curious nature of their sexual behaviour was the challenge of what would and would not be publishable in the 1920’s.
A major sub-story of The Prisoner, is the increasingly overt and homosexually active behaviour of M. de Charlus, who has taken guardianship of the outstanding violinist Morel who also displays his own sexually aggressive habits. Baron de Charlus who has taken a very dominant role throughout Books 2-5 meets his sad Waterloo at a musical soiree organised by M. and Mme Verdurin. The Narrator is opposed to homosexuality throughout the five volumes, although it was well known that Proust himself was a homosexual, which perhaps explains his sympathy and respect for Baron de Charlus after his very public downfall.
In spite of the at times pathetic and rather ridiculous nature of the “imprisonment” of Albertine, there are once again many beautiful and thought provoking passages in this novel which delve deeply into literature (especially the writing of Dostoyevski) art, music, the philosophy of love and jealousy and much more besides. The translation is outstanding and the explanatory notes, as always, helpful and informative. Proust died before the final three volumes of his massive work were completely finalised and the editors of this new version have done an excellent job in pulling the various elements of the final three volumes together. The climax of this novel leaves the reader gasping and regretful that the relationship is actually over. For the first time in five novels I am now quite keen to read Book 6, The Fugitive. 5 stars.
Peter Frankopan: The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, p/b, London, Bloomsbury, 2016
Croatian born Peter Frankopan is the Professor of Global History at Oxford University and also with his wife runs a chain of exclusive international hotels as well as managing a $14 million trust from his parent’s supermarket chain! His mother was a Swedish Professor of international Law.
This book stayed on the British Sunday Times Non-Fiction charts for nine months and I understand why. It is certainly the most readable, stunning and extraordinary non-fiction book I have ever read and I have read a few. The reference section runs to 94 pages in small type and contains material from over ten languages.
The sweep of Frankopan’s writings is vast, sweeping through the earliest tribes emerging from the silk road steppes inciuding Attila the Hun’s reign of terror and much later the all conqurering Mongol empire lead by Genghis Khan and his son Ogödei who became the Great Khan. The extraordinary cultures and wealth generated from the silk roads is the essence of this book. This does not mean Frankopan ignores Egypt, the Greeks and the Romans. Frankopan handles with effective and fascinating details the tensions and trauma associated with Christianity’s hammering out of the theology of Christ as the Son of God over five centuries as well as the impact of Islam from the C7th onwards.
Nevertheless, never far away are the Silk Roads and he effectively argues that after the fall of Rome, Europe was a backwater for a thousand years while the real action and culture was elsewhere from Venice eastwards. It is so refreshing to read a world history that is not Western-centric.
When it comes to the British and American ascendancy and the European wars Frankopan once again demonstrates the importance of Russia and its links with the east. The bankruptcy of England following the second world war and the importance of the Persian and Arabic oil supplies, along with the power of China brings the story full circle back to the Silk Roads.
Frankopan’s style is dynamic, elegant, sure-footed, exciting, racy and impossible to put down. Any thoughtful student prepared to read this book will immediately make history their life’s work. In my version this book runs to 521 pages but I could not put it down. If, like me, you are tired of the shallow gotcha and point scoring that is called news on today’s television screens I suggest you give the tv a rest and take to this book. Your view of the world will never be the same! 10 stars!