Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Nässlorna blomma (Flowering Nettle) by Harry Martinson

This post is written also for the Read the Nobels hosted by Aloi (Guiltless Reading)

Harry Martinson is a Swedish Nobel Prize Laureate, receiving the prize in 1974 together with
another Swedish writer Eyvind Johnson ”for writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos”. He also wrote poetry, and is one of the best known ’proletarian’ writers in Sweden. I have finally got around to read one of his most famous and auto-biographical books, Nässlorna blomma (Flowering Nettle).

It is about the boy Martin (Martinson’s alter ego), 7-11 years old during the story, and whose mantra is ”my father is dead and my mother is in California”. Martinson lost his parents at a young age; his father died and his mother left him to move to Portland, USA. He spent his earlier years in foster care. It has certainly influenced his writing in general and is specifically present in this novel.

We follow Martin from when his father dies and his mother leaves the children behind to emigrate to California. Times were dire, especially for a widow, with several children. The children were placed in foster care through the municipality, according to the norm; the family who demanded least money could have the child. It is terrible to think of how these children must have suffered.

Although Martin in the novel does not physically suffer very badly, although there are some beatings occasionally, it is the mental part that is most difficult for him to handle. He is missing his mother, love, closeness to a family member. His beloved older sister died young and that was the last person he loved. He is taken from one foster home to the next and in the end (at least of the book but not his life) he arrives to a home for older people with mental deficiencies. He helps out with the inmates and feels that the lady in charge is a surrogat mother for him. Then something happens.

Harry Martinson’s novel lingers between reality and dreamlike story telling. It is written from a 10-year old boy’s view, but the wisdom of these views belong to a much older man. ”Martin is described as a selfish, stupid, childish, self pitying, obsequious, coward and false.” I don’t really agree to all of these characterisations. His situation is of a vulnerable kind. A child that, in principal, has lost his family at a young age. Living in five different homes during as many years, with people he does not know that well. When he gets attached to people, it is time for him to move to another family. In those harsh days, parents did not have time and energy to give love to their own children, less to an orphan child. Maybe the description above is only natural for a child in his situation.

The story is a good description of the situation for the poor in Sweden in the beginning of the 20th century. It is written in a wonderful, easily read prose with dreamlike sequences and beautiful descriptions of nature, woven into the sad story of Martin. Harry Martinson has managed to delicately balance his story, and make it trustworthy. And, being a Nobel Prize Laureate book, easily accessible. An enjoyable read.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

K is for Killer by Sue Grafton

Lornas sista flörtHas finished the "K" Sue Grafton alphabetical series about female detective Kinsey Millhone. This one is from 1994, and I remember having read one in the series many years ago. I like it although I can't remember which one.

I read this one in Swedish and maybe that is why I did not entirely like the writing, which could be due to the translation. It felt a little bit 'formal' at times and did not fit the overall tough, hard core writing and dialogue. Furthermore, there were some excessive 'milieu' descriptions which was a little bit repetitive and over the top. Having said that, I really like the murder mystery itself. It was rather slow, but you really get a feeling for the way a private detective have to work. Slowly, slowly finding small pieces of information leading forward, or not.

When the story starts our detective is hired by the mother of Lorna Kepler to try to find her murderer. Lorna died a year ago, and the police put it down to suicide. Her mother believes otherwise. Kinsey takes on the case and starts interviewing more or less the same people as the police did when investigating the case. It leads her in a slightly different way and she soon realises that Lorna is not the nice girl she pretended to be.

It took a long time until I could even start to suspect anyone of the murder. It is all very well hidden during the whole book. It is not until the very end, and more or less at the same time as Kinsey herself realises who the murder is, that the reader can guess. At least that was the case for me. Suspense until the end is never bad for a murder mystery.

The narration is from Kinsey's point of view and the style reminds me a little bit about Dashiell Hammett. Maybe that is why Kinsey slightly irritates me from time to time. She is not Sam Spade and the time is different. The style seems, to me, to belong more in the 1950s than the 1990s. But that might be only for me. All in all I like the story and would gladly read another of her 'letter' books. I like the idea of her using the alphabet to name her books.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Breaking routines

Summer is normally the time when routines are broken. You go on holiday, enjoy the sun, relax and have time to read more books. For me, this summer is something out of the extraordinary, and not exactly relaxed, even if it has been enjoyable in another way.

View from our flat, over the limestone quarry 
First of all my son is home from his studies. Always very nice, but it means that my office is gone! Yes, I have made his bedroom my office and now he has taken it back.  I have moved to the dining room table with my laptop, which means running around for things I normally have around my desk, taking all the more time to do simple things. But, I am not complaining, having him around is a bliss.

My new desk (with possibility to change the
height electronically), here as a
temporary eating table

Another thing that has broken my routines is that we have bought two flats in Sweden; one for us and one for our son. That generates a lot of administration and travels back and forth, not to talk about furnishing them. Great fun, but a lot of work and carrying furniture and boxes! My body is aching from head to toes! I have really enjoyed planning and decorating our flat and I think it will be very light, airy and comfortable once it is ready. Fantastic to move into something quite new, after living in an old house, although renovated, for many years. We are still to stay on here in Belgium for some years though.

Book shelves and new reading corner

As you can imagine there has been no time for either reading or blogging. I have managed to finish one book, The Rare and the Beautiful by Cressida Connolly, a biography about the Garman sisters. Fascinating book and a review will come. Now I have started K is for Killer by Sue Grafton. It is one of her Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series. I remember reading some when I was younger, and found this one in a second hand shop. Each book starts with a letter and title. Today she has reached as far as X.

Well, time for me to go back to packing some more boxes. Maybe I will also manage to continue reading about Kinsey's K murder mystery!

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

The Knights Templar in Britain by Evelyn Lord

The Content ReaderEver since reading The Da Vinci Code, I have been interested in the Templars and what they were. I am obviously not alone in this interest, since the book generated a frequent stream of ’literary tourism’ to places in the book, and places connected to the Templars. The best thing to do, to find out what they really were is to read a non-fiction book about them. So, being me, I ordered two books; this one and ’The Rise and the Fall of the Knights Templar’ by Gordon Napier, still to be read.

The beginning

The book opens with a chapter called ’The Knights Templar: Knightly Monks or Monkish Knights? A very good question indeed. I think many of us forget the fact that the Templars were monks. We are used to think of monks, staying in their monastery, taking care of their gardens, doing their prayers and all in all live a very quiet, contemplating kind of life. However, the Templars we see as Knights and soldiers firstly (don’t we all have a notion of knights as a nobel class of soldiers under the banner of faith, loyalty, courage and honour. Fighting tournaments and saving maids in distress?).
”Was the original intent of the Templars to protect pilgrims or was their prime aim to lead a monastic life? William of Tyre writes that they dedicated themselves to God, taking vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, and then the Patriarch and other bishops enjoined them for the remission of their sins ’that as far as their strength permitted, they should keep the roads and highways safe from the menace of robbers and highwaymen, with especial regard for the protection of pilgrims’”.
Although the Patriarch of Jerusalem was one of the most important founders of the Order, the overall commander of the knights was the Pope. The order was spread out in different countries, and their allegiance was with the Pope, not the king or queen of the country where they were living. It was an early international organisation, independent from many structures in the countries where they lived. The privileges included freedom from paying tithes to the Church, as well as not having to pay taxes to the king. The money they earned all went into fighting the infidels during the various crusades. Maybe it was these inequalities that made them unpopular locally.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

The Sleepwalkers - How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark

This is a very complex book about finding the cause to the First World War. It is not possible to point to one specific cause to the start of the war. Christopher Clark makes a fantastic job in showing us the various events that lead to this  terrible war.
”The European continent was at peace on the morning of Sunday 28 June 1914, when Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie Chotek arrived at Sarajevo railway station. Thirty-seven days later, it was at war. The conflict that began that summer mobilized 65 million troops, claimed three empires, 20 million military and civilian deaths, and 21 million wounded. The horrors of Europe’s twentieth century were born of this catastrophe; it was, as the American historian Fritz Stern put it, ’the first calamity of the twentieth century, the calamity from which all other calamities sprang’. The debate over why it happened began before the first shots were fired and has been running ever since. It has spawned an historical literature of unparalleled size, sophistication and moral intensity. For international relations theorists the events of 1914 remain the political crisis par excellence, intricate enough to accommodate any number of hypotheses.”
This is the opening paragraph of the Introduction to Christopher Clark’s eminent book on how Europe went to war in 1914, The Sleepwalkers. Tremendous praise has been given to the book, and it has been called a master piece. You can’t call it anything less. It is magnificent. Clark gives such detailed accounts on events, you wonder how he has been able to research it all.

Christopher Clark is an Australian historian, working at the University of Cambridge. In 2015 he was knighted for his services to Anglo-German relations. His earlier works include The History of Prussia, Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 and Kaiser Wilhelm II.
”This book thus strives to understand the July Crisis of 1914 as a modern event, the most complex of modern times, perhaps of any time so far. It is concerned less with why the war happened than with how it came about. Questions of why and how are logically inseparable, but they lead us in different directions. The question of how invites us to look closely at the sequences of interactions that produced certain outcomes. By contrast, the question of why invites us to go in search of remote and categorical cuases: imperialism, nationalism, armaments, alliances, high finance, ideas of national honour, the mechanics of mobilization. They why approach brings a certain analytical clarity, but it also has a distorting effect, because it creates the illusion of a steadily building causal pressure; the factors pile up on top of each other pushing down on the events; political actors become mer executors of forces long established and beyond their control.
The British historian A.J.P Taylor and the American historian Barbara Tuchman wrote that ’the war was a result of rigid planning, train schedules and treaty commitments. That is, it was the final stop in a chain of events that could not stop the train, once it started’. It is a very good description and after having read Clark’s book you can see how all decisions from the persons and countries involved, although aimed at not starting a war, on the contrary, lead directly to war.

In 1903 Alexander I of Serbia was killed by a secret network called The Black Hand. The same network that eleven years later organised the murder of the archduke of Austria-Hungary. Christopher Clark considers this to be the very start of the actions that finally led to the outbreak of the First World War. Germany was accused of escalating the conflict, but Clark means they were not alone in their paranoid imperialism. None of the great powers wanted war, but due to how events happened, they walked like sleepwalkers into the war, without anyone being able to explain how it happened.

Europe at the time was at a cross road and political changes were in the air. The imperialistic powers of Europe, Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Osman empire, Russia, Great Britain, France and Italy were all conspiring to secure their power base. New times were waiting and people were opposing their governments. Clark considers that this totally, illogical conflict is based on how Europe looked before 1914. It was an unstable, hereditary monarchy, hit by ethnical conflicts and nationalistic fractions. The elite suffered from a lack of virility and needed somehow to show their masculinity. Could it be that the war started because the elite and generals felt threatened by the earlier marginalised proletariat?

There is not one separate government or individ which could be accused of having started the war. Clark notes in his conclusion that:
”The outbreak of war in 1914 is not an Agatha Christie drama at the end of which we will discover the culprit standing over a corpse in the conservatory with a smoking pistol. There is no smoking gun in this story; or, rather, there is one in the hands of every major character. Viewed in this light, the outbreak of war was a tragedy, not a crime. Acknowledging this does not mean that we should minimize the belligerence and imperialist paranoia of the Austrian and German policy-makers that rightly absorbed the attention of Fritz Fischer and his historiographical allies. But the Germans were not the only imperialists and not the only ones to succumb to paranoia. The crisis that brought war in 1914 was the fruit of a shared political culture. But it was also multipolar and genuinely interactive - that is what makes it the most complex event of modern times and that is why the debate over the origins of the First World War continues, one century after Gavrilo Princip fired those two fatal shots on Franz Joseph Street”
So much have been written about the First World War. Last time someone counted, in 1991, there were more than 25 000 books an articles written about this disaster. If you are interested in the causes and want to have an overview of events, I can highly recommend this book. The book is almost 600 pages, written in rather small text (at least my pocket version), but it never gets dull. Wonderful prose, easy to read and told in a way that makes it hard to put the book down, once you get into it. It just confirms that the history of real life is much more exciting than any fictional story.

What amazed me, was how supposedly, responsible emperors, kings and politicians acted. Many times due to small reasons of self interest, making a decision without a proper back ground, without thinking of the greater picture, a lack of knowing what the others were doing, interpreting what they were doing, rightly or wrongly. It was like these people were sitting with the map of Europe and made their next move with a chess piece. Rather scaring.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Book beginnings on Friday

Rose City Reader, is hosting Book beginnings on Friday. She says:

Rose City Reader

Please join me every Friday to share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. Please remember to include the title of the book and the author’s name.

Freda's VoiceFreda’s voice is hosting Friday 56 and the rules are:

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
(If you have to improvise, that's ok.)
 *Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it)
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post below in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url.
*It's that simple.

My book this week is Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler


”He wakes to the scratching of a pencil against a page: a noise out of the darkness. He lies quite still on his back, reaching out for sound. His ears have become wings, straining, stretching, carrying him away. The world comes to him only through sound, and there is precious little of that.”

Page 56

”She wonders if she should say something about the scant provisions. The daughter looks up, as if she senses this thought, and even in the dim light the nurse sees a momentary flash, a spark of smouldering fire in the large, luminous eyes behind the glasses, which surprises her. Perhaps not as mild and meek as one might think at first glance."

The Content Reader

The beginning relates the thoughts of Patrick Brontë, lying in his bed after having had his eye operation. Page 56 (or 55-56) relates the thoughts of the nurse taking care of him. You can read my review of the book on the link under the title above.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Challenge update - Full House Reading Challenge 2016

This interesting challenge is hosted by Book Date who have created a card à la Bingo, with five criteria in each direction, 25 in all. I will try to cover them all in my quest to lower my TBR shelves. Here is the card.

So how have I done so far?

Author you wish was known better - Alex Connor
Published in 2016 - The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel
Book from series you love -
Debut novel -
Thought Provoking book - The Sage of Waterloo by Leona Francombe
Had laugh out loud moments - The Almost Nearly Perfect People - Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth
Book club worthy - Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler
Color word in titleThe Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Authors' surname starts with same letter as yours - The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco
You didn't want to put it down - The Other Rembrandt by Alex Connor
Way out of comfort zone -  The Circle by Clive Eggers
Family relationship word in title - Travels with my Aunt by Graham Greene
Book you bought - The German Woman by Paul Griner
Setting begins with B - Belgium: Under jorden i Vilette by Ingrid Hedman (Under the Earth)
Author outside own country - The life-changing magic of tidying by Marie Kondo (Japan)
Self challenge -
Memoir -
First in a series - The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig
You'd like to change the cover -
A dominant color on cover -How can one not be interested in Belgian History by various authors sort of a greenish/gray colour covering the whole area.
New author to you - Paul Griner with ”The German Woman
Would make a good movie - De gömda rummen (Habitaciones cerradas) by Care Santos
Library book - The Dinner by Herman Koch
Published 2015 -
Been on TBR ’forever' - Our Man in Havanna by Graham Greene

That makes 19 out of 25. I am quite pleased with that. Outstanding are:
Book from series you love
Debut novel
Self challenge
You'd like to change the cover 
Published 2015 -

Should not be that difficult to finish this year. Great challenge with interesting criteria. It makes it more interesting to find the right book.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler

I won this book at the Brussels Brontë group’s annual Christmas dinner, and it has spent half a year on my shelves. I am quite familiar with the story of the family and at first I could not really engage in the book.

It is very well written, beautiful prose. It follows the thoughts of Charlotte, Emily, Anne, the father and the nurse helping the father during his convalescence after his eye operation. Sheila Kohler lets us into the minds of the sisters and how their experiences in life has found its way into their books. We hear the thoughts of the father, always somehow distancing himself from his children, except possibly from Branwell, the promising son of which became nothing.

The more I read however, the more I did engage in their destiny, and Sheila Kohler has integrated their thoughts of what happened in their life and how the event were woven into their stories. It is very delicately and respectfully done, and towards the end of the book you feel their pain and their solitude of lives, which were rich in literature and work, but somehow seemed to lack the spirit of life.

An easy readable and thought worthy book on the life of the Brontës. It has given me another dimension of their writings. Kohler carefully guides you through their personalities, and characters as we know them.  In the end of the book there is a chapter ”A conversation with Sheila Kohler”. Here is her answer to the question ”How long did the research for the novel take? Were there moments in writing the book where your creative impulse went in one direction and the truth of Charlotte Brontë’s life went in the other? Which did you follow?
”J.M. Coetzee once said to me when I told him about my project: ’Don’t stay too close to the truth.’ I think that it is good advice. Certainly, one cannot falsify the facts that are so well known, and I hope I have never done that. However, there is so much one doesn’t know about someone else’s life, even someone so famous, and there I let my imagination work freely. Besides. there is always a selection of facts made. I was particularly interested  in the bond between Charlotte and her married professor and also in the relationship between these three sisters, who died so young. …”
I think Sheila Kohler has managed to stay true to the sisters, and the areas where she has let her imagination flow, she has nevertheless held back in line with the characters of the sisters.

Monday, 18 July 2016

A real French 'crime passionel'

For Paris in July 2016, hosted by Tamara at Thyme for Tea I found this interesting real life event about a 'crime passionnel'.

While reading The Sleepwalkers I came on to a fascinating, real ’crime passionnel’ which happened in France in 1914. As mentioned in the book:
”In Paris, the news from Sarajevo was pushed off the front pages by a scandal of momentous proportions. On 16 March 1914, Madame Caillaux, wife of the former prime minister Joseph Caillaux, had walked into the office of Gaston Calmette, editor of Figaro, and fired six bullets into him. The reason for the murder was the campaign the newspaper had waged against her husband, in the course of which Calmette had published love letters she had written to Joseph Caillaux while he was still married to his first wife”
Henriette Caillaux (from Wikipedia)
Intriguing to say the least. It can’t be left without a little bit of research on Wikipedia, and here is what I came up with.

Henriette Caillaux was a Parisian socialite, who, in 1893, married Léo Claretie, a writer twelve years her senior. They had two children. In 1907 she began an affair with Joseph Caillaux while both were married. She divorced in 1908 but Joseph Caillaux’ divorce was more complicated and was delayed. Once they were both free they married in 1911. 

Joseph Caillaux was at the time Minister of Finance and came under attach from his political foes (we are now in 1914). One severe critic was Gaston Calmette, the editor of Le Figaro. He received a letter belonging to Caillaux, and although journalistic etiquette at the time dictated it should not be published, he did so nevertheless. The letter indicated improprieties committed by Caillaux concerning a tax bill and the publication of the letter tarnished his reputation and caused a political upheaval. 

Henriette Caillaux believed that Calmette might publish other private letters, indicating that Caillaux and she had had intimate relationships while he was still married to his first wife. In her own mind she only saw one possible solution; that her husband would challenge Calmette to a duel. Regardless of the outcome it would destroy their lives. At this point she decided to take the only action she could think of to protect her beloved husband. She was sacrificing herself. 

Joseph Caillaux (from Wikipedia)

At 5 pm on 16 March 1914, she went to the offices of Le Figaro to see Calmette. In his office Henriette said a few words before pulling out a .32 Browning automatic pistol, concealed in her muff. She fired six shots and Calmette was hit four times and critically wounded. She made no attempt to escape,  just waited for the doctor and the police. She refused to be transported in the police car and used her private car driven by her chauffeur. Calmette died six hours after being shot. 

As one can imagine, the trial dominated French public life at the time. She, a rich and famous person with good connections, saw a trial which featured ”a deposition from the president of the Republic, an unheard of occurrence at a criminal proceeding almost anywhere, along with the fact that many of the participants were among the most powerful members of French society.”

The prominent lawyer Fernand Labori was hired for her defence. He managed to convince the the jury, that her crime, which she did not deny, was ”not a premeditated act but that her uncontrollable female emotions resulted in a crime of passion”. She was acquitted on 28 July 1914 with the notion that women were not as strong emotionally as men! She and her husband went on to live until 1943 and 1944 respectively. She later on wrote a thesis on the sculptor Jules Dalou, and both of them seemed to continue with their lives as before.  

Well, this could possibly only happen in France? In France, where a ’crime passionnel’ is a more common thing than in other countries. Where it is comme il faut to have a lover and a mistress? I think the French has a more relaxed attitude to these things, even if they keep affairs secret, and not necessarily approve of the more serious deed as in this case. 

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Tower - An Epic History of the Tower of London by Nigel Jones - part II

Many important, high ranked and famous people spent time in the Tower, either to be released later on or go directly to the executioner. Many of them wrote poems to describe their peril. Here is one very touching from a Chideock Tichborne, a young gentleman writing to his wife.

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,

My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,

My crop of corn is but a field of tares
And all my good is but vain hope of gain;
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done. 

My tale is hear and yet it was not told,
My fruit is fall’n and yet my leaves are green
My youth is spent and yet I am not old, 
I saw the world and yet I was not seen;
My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done. 

I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I looked for life and saw it was a shade,
I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I was but made;
My glass is full, and now my glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

A romanticised painting of the Princes 

I would like share with you the destinly of three of the most famous prisoners that spend time in the Tower. In the end they all met death. Maybe the most famous and  tragic prisoners were the Princes in the Tower. 

The young sons of Edward IV, Edward the Crown Prince and supposed to be the future Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York, were confined in the Garden (now the Bloody) Tower - ”the small, rectangular gatehouse on the western edge of the palace which, as its name suggests, had its own garden where the boys could play." Their uncle Richard (III) had already started a campaign to deem them illegal, in order to grab the crown himself.
”The dethroned King Edward knew very well what fate lay in store at the hands of his implacable uncle. Told that he was no longer king, and that Richard had taken his throne, More tells us that Edward ’was sore abashed, began to sigh, and said, ”Alas, I would my uncle would le me have my life yet, though I lose my Kingdom.”’ Though the young Duke of York was apparently a bright, healthy and spirited boy, his elder brother was in a pitiful state of physical prostration as well as mental agony. An examination of his presumed skull in the 103+s showed advanced tooth decay which had spred to both jawbones, had become the bone disease osteomyelitis, and must have caused the prince sever pain to add to his mental woes.”