Books

I can highly recommend this book:

Black Snake - The Real Story of Ned Kelly
Leo Kennedy

Author Leo Kennedy is the great-grandson of Sergeant Michael Kennedy. Raised in the shadow of his great-grandfather’s murder, Leo witnessed the deep psychological wounds inflicted on successive generations of his family - and the families of other victims - as the Ned Kelly myth grew around them and the sacrifice of their loved ones was forgotten.
Black Snake challenges the legend of Ned Kelly. Instead of celebrating a heroic man of the people, it gives voice to the victims of a merciless gang of outlaws. This is a captivating true story, gleaned from meticulous research and family history of two men from similar backgrounds whose legacies were distorted by history.

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I’ve just listened to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris, an Australian author, on the basis of a couple of recommendations. I didn’t think it was very good; in fact I thought it was pretty poor, frankly. It’s a true story with two basic themes: the determination to survive over 2 years in Auschwitz, and a love born in a concentration camp.

They’re strong themes and could have been the basis of a very good book, but unfortunately it’s very poorly written and full of anachronistic dialogue, thoughts and events — eg in 1943 the main character manages to get hold of penicillin on the black market to save his beloved, when penicillin had not even been heard of by the general public in 1943 and was not in general use until after the war.

The audiobook is an Australian production read by Richard Armitage — not very well.

Well if you are going to skip parts of a book, there is no real surprise that you will miss things.

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I suspect “The Book Smugglers of TImbuktu” started out as an attempt to lionise the heroic efforts of a few humble souls in Timbuktu, lead by a librarian (the humblest of humble professions), who outwit Al Qaeda oppressors and save the precious literary heritage of Timbuktu and Africa and, of course, the World, but somewhere along the way the author, Charlie English, caught the whiff of artifice and found himself faced with a dilemma. Was the public version of the story legit, or a beat-up aimed at drawing money from guilt ridden donors, or a bit of both? He basically pumps for the latter, but without certainty or outrage.
The book has two narratives which line up in the myth busting finale, the history of the European fascination with and the search for the legendary town of Timbuktu in Mali, and the account of the reputed spiriting of hundreds of thousands of historical documents from under the noses of the Al Qaeda besiegers in Timbuktu earlier this decade. Ultimately I found the historical narrative of the poorly organised and disastrous attempts to reach the fabled city more engrossing. When eventually they reached their Atlantis they were overwhelmed with indifference, for naturally it could never have lived up to the mythical preconceptions and, surprise, surprise, turned out to be a trade town with nothing much to distinguish itself, except for its prized cache of literature.
Charlie English keeps the story moving in a lively journalist manner, a sort of Peter Ackroyd in first gear, and mostly lets the twin narratives tell themselves. It certainly opened my eyes to Mali and Timbuktu, and I won’t be hopping on a flight any time soon. He admits towards the end the book has become less about history and more about historiography as he juggles multitudes of contradictory sources and very few hard facts in both of the text’s streams.
I certainly wouldn’t say it was a book I couldn’t put down, I did for extended periods of time, but I did keep picking it up again… and again.

Just finished reading The Rhythm Section by Mark Burnell that they’re making into a movie. Written before 9/11 but had eerie similarities with it. I’m not sure what to think of it tbh but I will probably watch the movie.

Will Eaves’ “Murmur” makes no concessions for scientific or biographical ignorance and I often found it challenging. The book imagines, rather than depicts, the final portion of the life of one of the modern era’s foremost celebrity martyr’s, namely Alan Turing. It’s short, disjointed and full of hallucinogenic dream sequences which are regularly indistinguishable from the parallel narrative, if indeed there is one, as befits the tale of a victim of chemical castration. It’s also brilliantly written, perceptive and wise. Alan Turing becomes Alec Pryor in a move I take as the author’s concession he is engaged in literary slight of hand, but there’s no doubting it’s Turing. The protagonist’s various manifestations, and there are a few, regularly insist we are on our own and can do little more than speculate about the state of consciousness of another, be it human or mechanical, and speculate Eaves does. A number of the rave reviews it has garnered insist he has cracked Turing’s code, but I’m not entirely convinced the Pryor who by book’s end appears to have emerged from chemical hell with his basic sense of self fairly intact is a candidate for the gruesome end we know Turing endured. But then perhaps Eaves is siding with those who question whether Turing’s end was self inflicted.
Is it worth the challenge? How would I know, I can’t read minds. But I enjoyed the experience, although I wouldn’t have minded a decent set of footnotes and a scientific glossary.

Still getting throughPhilip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series.

Bernie is a homicide cop in Berlin in the twenties and early thirties, and being a supporter of the Weimar Republic, doesn’t survive the Nazi takeover.

But he’s still in demand as a top cop, and gets co-opted by sundry high-up Nazis during the war.

He floats around after the war and some of the books are set in Cuba, Argentina and Athens inter al. Interesting times in history.

Kerr died last year, so Metropolis, his last book, was recently released.

And they don’t really need to be read chronologically. 14 or 15 books in total, I think. The first three are released as a single book.

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If you like Ali Smith you’ll like Spring, the third of her planned Brexit Quartet, it’s as simple as that. It’s an incongrous modern fairy tale about various characters from across the social and political divide trying to make their way through the ethical minefield of modern Britain. Holding them together is a fey child sage who somehow manages to conjure hope in a world of abuse and conflict.
If anything it’s more accessible and less subtle than her usual fare, as befits the themes and times, and for once she actually ties up some, if not all, of the story lines. Given the current news it’s hard to imagine the flicker of hope surviving Summer but we can but wait and see.
One warning: it trains a spotlight on the modern obscenity of refugee incarceration, something I’m told is a turn off in OZ.

And now I’ve started on David Young’s Stasi series with Karin Müller as a youngish police lieutenant in East Berlin in the mid 70s.

She’s not cynical about the “Democratic” Republic but I suspect in books 2-4 she will become so, like in The Lives of Others.

Looking to read a decent crime novel and I’d heard Kate Atkinson was good so I toyed with the idea of her first Brodie book, “Case Histories”, but I’ve learnt from my own reading history and checked first. No way.
Should be warning labels on crime fiction for touchy customers like me, adult victims only.

I like Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie books. Nice quiet humour, stories no less believable than others in the crime fiction world, easy relaxed style, a credible relationship between Jackson and his wife …

They’re not “hard-hitting” or “hard-boiled”, just lightweight amusement. I’ve read them all except the latest, which my wife is currently hogging.

If you haven’t read Mick Herron’s Slow Horses series they’re definitely worth a go. I’m currently reading one by a local woman called Emma Viskic. She taught my son clarinet at school and had limited success in that endeavour, but she has done well since she started writing crime. Her main character is an investigator who’s very deaf. I’ve read an earlier one and liked it, and I’m liking this one too.

On a different note, i’ve just bought audiobook versions of Zola’s Nana in both English and French. I figure I couldn’t cope with only the French one, but if I use the English as a backup I might be okay.

I did the same with paperbacks of Cien Años de Soledad by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Not far in, they’re just about to found Macondo.

Spanish writing style is very different, mainly due to the fact they have very long paragraphs.

Fire & Fury by Michael Wolff. The first 200 days of the Trump White House. You could not make this stuff up! He’s just released another - highly readable.

Although the criticism with him is that he does makes it up…

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Mostly I assume no-one’s likely to read the books I review but in this case it’s Jock Serong’s “On The Java Ridge” which the cover tells me is an OZ best seller, whatever that means, and an award winner, so…SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

I read this book not because the author lives in Port Fairy but primarily because I discovered it won the very controversial British based “Staunch Prize” for thrillers which eschew violence against women. I won’t go into the brouhaha that prize has caused but if you want to read about it…


I’m not taking a stand on the merits of the award but personally I’m over the gratuitious abuse of so many modern crime/thriller fiction novels.
Anyway the novel is a truck without brakes on a busy downhill highway, or in this case a boat heading for the bottom of the sea. It’s political and breathless and angry and tender and gut wrenchingly tragic. The central focus is our treatment of refugees and Serong reckons if they won’t drown themselves then we step in and kill them.
Is it well written? Not especially, it’s more melodramatic than poignant but Serong knows his audience.
Is the idea that the PM is a cold blooded murderer credible? Probably not, I first thought, but then I remembered we just re-elected the prickk who turned a blind eye to the brutal murder of Reza Barati. Mind you the idea that someone with a conscience ends up as Immigration Minister is a step too far.
Can’t work out why it won the Staunch Prize however because there’s plenty of violence against women and men and children in the tale, as is definitely the case in the real world of Australian Immigration policy. Would I have read it had I known threats to a child were central to the plot? No way, but I probably needed to read it anyway, but not as much as the right wing aholes who voted these animals back into office. Mind you they’d be too busy checking their stocks and negatively geared properties to bother anyway.
Did I mention it’s actually a page turner, but one where you turn them with trepidation.
Now if only someone can offer an award for crime/thriller novels which leave kids alone I’m front of the queue.

A little while ago I read Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews, I thought it was quite entertaining and so I have the sequel ready to go.
After Red Sparrow I read John Le Carre’s Little Drummer Girl which I enjoyed, well written but the ending lacked a bit. Still, I now have Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy next to my bed for when I’m ready.
Just to mix it up, I’m currently 3/4 through Dune (Frank Herbert) which is a nice easy read. I was expecting something very deep or slow going but so far it’s just not interesting entertainment.
I guess I often attracted to classics but anything that was really good - iconic- 50 years ago has probably been done better since.

I thought the end was ridiculous. I believe governments, including Australian governments, will do a lot of bad things, but not that.

I loved Rules of Backyard Cricket, although [SPOILER!!!] I don’t like books written in the first person by dead people.

The Danihers. Great book, loved every page of it!

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Two more Bernie Gunthers to go, his third - A German Requiem - set just after the war and the final one, Metropolis, finished shortly before Kerr died.

The second book, A Pale Criminal, was based on real events in Berlin in 1938.

The new Elvis Cole, Joe Pike novel by Robert Crais, is just out. Hopefully it’s arrived in these far-flung reaches of civilisation.

Just finished Anna Burns’s “Little Constructions” and my head is still ringing. Put simply it’s a mess, a confounding frickin’ brilliant mess. It’s the one she wrote before everyone went wild over “Milkman”, and the one no-one read.
Like Milkman, it’s set in an unnamed locale which is obviously suburban Belfast and it’s convoluted, violent, uncompromising, disjointed, funny and doom laden. Many of the characters and events and themes are recognisable if you’ve read the Booker winner. And although its language is less elliptical than Milkman the story is relentlessly and confoundingly Joycean, and if that turns you off, steer clear.
Funnily enough, it’s the best thing I’ve read since “Milkman”. Have to hunt out “No Bones” now, her debut novel, because she’s reportedly struggling with health issues and unlikely to write any time soon.
If you want to try her, don’t start with this, go with the Booker winner, it’s easier but… She’s unbelievably brilliant but she doesn’t take prisoners. I can just imagine her agent and publisher begging her to lighten up. The result was Milkman. This is every bit as good though.
PS: Just to emphasise how challenging the story can be, I just read the Guardian review which is positive but confuses two of the key characters, which in the context of the novel is frickin’ appalling. It’s not Jetty but Jotty. You’d have to read the novel to realise how egregious this error is. For any old reader that might be OK but for a professional reviewer that is unforgivable.


PS Love the way it seems to polarise readers on the Amazon and Goodreads sites. Great writers ■■■■ people off, they just do.

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