Don Marquis, Archy’s Life of Mehitabel, h/b, London, Faber & Faber Ltd., 1986 (1933)

Don Marquis was an American novelist, playwright and newspaper columnist for The Evening Sun newspaper in New York.  Archy the cockroach and Mehitabel the alley cat were two characters who appeared regularly in Marquis’s newspaper column from 1916 onwards over many years. The  brief stories were first put into book form as Archy and Mehitabel in 1927.  In 1933 Marquis published further adventures in Archy’s Life of Mehitabel  with Archy Does His Part following in 1935.  There has also been a musical version and a Broadway musical. 

Archy the Cockroach manages to crawl into Don Marquis’ typewriter and strike most of the letters but cannot manage capitals, full stops or commas. He and Mehitabel have many adventures and Archy makes more sense of the world than most humans which, I suspect, is why his thoughts are still in press today and have been since 1916. 

“mehitabel’s parlour story”, printed below is chapter 33 of Archy’s Life of Mehitabel.

boss did you

hear about the two drunks

who were riding in

a ford or something

equally comic

and the ford or

whatever it was nearly

went off the

road one of

the drunks poked the 

other and said thickly

they always talk thickly in

these stories

anyway he said hey look

out how youre driving

youll have us in

the ditch in a minute if

you don’t look out

why said the second

drunk who was drunker

i thought you 

were driving I got

that from Mehitabel the

cat its the first parlour

story ive ever heard 

her tell and ive known

her for five or six

years now


5 stars and rising! 

Margaret Attwood: The Handmaid’s Tale, p/b, London, Vintage Books, 2010 (1986)  

Prolific Canadian author Margaret Attwood has achieved permanent fame with this noir science fictional story set at the end of the C20th in an America shattered by internal wars, a series of cataclysmic earthquakes and the dominance of a weird pseudo-Christian sect. The narrator Offred, once happily married with a child and a good job now has only one function…to breed successfully, and create a successful society of perfectly formed dominant women. Men are peripheral in this new world occupied in fighting enemy states or guarding the exacting morals of a society in which the free sexual behaviour of the C20th has been abolished and an extremely strict order of “morality” prevails….or does it?  Beneath the appearance of strict order there is still a subset of the old sexual mores and the freedom of former C20th life…if you have the power or knowledge to find it! For me this narrative is quite frightening as many C21st world states are dominated by brutal regimes which deny basic human freedoms and even the “land of the free” has shown itself vulnerable to take over by corrupt and dominant forces. In Victoria, Australia, as free thought and speech from Kindergarten upwards is increasingly controlled, Attwood’s novel is worth a second read as a warning for the future.  5 stars.

Victor Hugo: The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Trans. Lowell Blair, p/b, New York, Bantam Books, 1963 (1831)  

Victor Hugo (1802-1885) was arguably France’s greatest literary figure producing a vast array of novels, works of non-fiction, poetry and plays. He was also a talented artist and a major political force in France. Upon the rise of Napoleon he fled to Guernsey and did not return until Napoleon was deposed. 

The Hunchback of Notre Dame was one of his earliest novels, written in 1821. It’s key characters are the deformed, one eyed hunchback Quasimodo who lives freely in a cell in Notre Dame Cathedral;  La Esmeralda, beautiful dancer, stolen and brought up by Gypsies but finally, if briefly returned to her mother; Djali, Esmeralda’s faithful and trained goat;  Pierre Gringoire, philosopher, playwright and platonic “husband” of La Esmeralda; Dom Claude Frollo, brilliant scholar and priest, neurotically in love with La Esmeralda and hated by her; and Captain Phoebus her gallant but unfaithful lover.

The novel is set in C15th Paris but written in historical perspective by Hugo. The grim realities of extreme wealth and extreme poverty, cruelty, rapacious and brutal leadership, fear of witchcraft and the drunken power of the rabble in mediaeval Paris are regularly on display. Hugo brilliantly captures the tortured and confused lives of these formidable individuals as they strive for the love of La Esmeralda. There is wisdom, humour, pathos and philosophy in Hugo’s Hunchback  but above all it is a rollicking story with the reader’s support clearly on the side of the naive and hapless La Esmeralda.  Andrew Lloyd Webber’s amazing Phantom of the Opera score sets the right sense of passion and drama for this novel although the plot line of Phantom has little in common with Hugo’s novel.  American Lowell Blair’s translation is outstanding.   5 stars.

Review of Tony Rinaudo, the Forest Underground, h/b, Melbourne, ISCAST, 2021 

Winner of the 2022 Australian Christian Book of the Year, Tony Rinaudo’s extraordinary life and achievements brings real hope to the world’s climbing temperature crisis. Rinaudo was born of Italian parents in Myrtleford and grew up with a passion for the environment and especially for trees. He grew up hating the bulldozing of indigenous native bushland in Australia and was determined to pursue farming reform based on the philosophy of James Sholto Douglas who had written about the integration of trees, crops and livestock in ecological balance in 1976 in his book Forest Farming. 

Rinaudo’s upbringing, schooling and university life were profoundly Christian and he became strongly committed to the idea of working overseas to make a difference to land degradation and the human suffering it unleashes.  At university through the Evangelical Union Rinaudo met Liz Fearon who was also strongly drawn to missional evangelism and meeting physical needs for those suffering in Africa particularly.  The book tells the story of their passion to study and work together  which resulted in them spending nineteen years in Niger, working in agriculture with the Sudan Interior Mission. 

Tree planting to redeem degraded soil had become an international passion by the time the Rinaudos arrived in Niger but throughout the world millions of trees planted across the world failed to survive and protagonists were losing hope. In Niger vast areas of land had become degraded, most of the trees had been cut down for firewood and crops for food were failing with disastrous famines increasing. Rinaudo found in his area that only four trees per hectare were left and the land was becoming a dust bowl. After two and half years of mounting frustration Rinaudo felt like a failure.

 On a seed planting exercise, while checking his land rover tyre pressure on a vast plain denuded of trees he came across a small “bush with leaves” and had his moment of inspiration when he realised the “bush” was actually a dormant tree that had been cut down. He writes “I was surrounded by trees. I was standing on a subterranean forest.” (p107).  

In the coming weeks after this discovery the aid project  FMNR was born. “Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration” eventually has become a major world wide effective phenomenon based on local people living their normal lives and not on international aid. This is a story of extraordinary courage, faith and hope in the midst of appalling conditions, with an an ongoing saga which is rejuvenating landscapes across the world. It is the story of one very humble man whose impact on land use across the world has, I believe, no equal. This book is a must read for anyone who cares about survival of our planet.   5 stars and rising!

Review of Tom Holland: Dominion: The Making of the Western World, p/b, London, Abacus, 2019  

This is a rare and exciting book! Tom Holland writes with insight, adventure and extraordinary erudition.  In an age when the West has turned its back on the Christian faith, Holland makes a very strong case that the Western world from the first century onwards owes its very existence and life to the spread of Christianity.  Holland begins with the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome but very quickly the reader is drawn into the profound impact that Jesus of Nazareth, his followers and especially the apostle Paul created  in transforming the Greco-Roman Empire over a period of five centuries.  

This is not dull church history for theological students! In each chapter Holland begins with a gripping event which immediately engages the reader…we really want to know the outcome of this little story and in the process we find ourselves learning deeply about the remarkable transformation of a Roman Empire into a Christian society. There are three major divisions in this extensive book. Holland divides his story between Antiquity, Christendom and Modernitas. Each has its own bibliography which can be annoying  when the reader is looking for a reference outside of its “section”.  

A reader of this review will be already thinking this is a big read and it is..525 pages plus extensive references.  But this book is never boring. Each story we know is important.  Chapter headings include Athens, Jerusalem, Mission, Belief, Charity, Heaven, Exodus, Conversion, Revolution, Persecution, Flesh, Apocalypse, Reformation, Cosmos, Spirit, Enlightenment, Religion, Science, Shadow, Love, and Woke!  There is no boring chapter I can guarantee it. 

All the heroes and the villains of Western history are on show here and Holland does not spare the horror and chaos alongside the glimmers of hope which shine through in remarkable  , often unsung individuals. Bob Dylan, Tolkien, Quakers, tyrants and Popes, no-one is left out. In the end, Holland proves his case. As Christians flee the West in droves today and millions in Asia and Africa embrace Christ, the West still demonstrates its Christian cultural heritage which it cannot shake off. The richest nations of the world have created a world-weary wealthy monopoly and are burning out, while a whole new Christian third world is rising powerfully.

Tom Holland, talking about his own faith in a recent New Statesman interview says In my morals and ethics, I have learned to accept that I am not Greek or Roman at all, but thoroughly and proudly Christian.  If you are looking for a good read this Summer, Dominion is the book.