Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A few reviews

I notice that although I've kept my reading list post pretty much updated, I haven't actually blogged about any of the books I've read. This might be in part because I've been re-reading a lot of Georgette Heyer and therefore shy about discussing it, and partly because I have multiple places where I review books. But I think my reading post looks a bit unloved without links to rambles about the books themselves.

Georgette Heyer : The Conqueror

Now Georgette Heyer is a bit like a bar of chocolate concealed at the back of the art cupboard; her books are a bit of a treat and naughty self-indulgence. She's best-known for her Regency romances. Heyer's women and their relationships would not stand up particularly well to feminist critique, so I take care to remove that particular hat when I read her.

However, she was actually a better writer than you might think and her historical research was meticulous to the point of obsessive. One of her books that I've re-read recently was The Conqueror. For this book, apparently she re-traced William I's steps on his journey from Normandy to clash with Harold in 1066, as well as thoroughly researching the period and people. The Conqueror is a fascinating take on the time. Having read this, I picked up a book on the Bayeux Tapestry, something I wouldn't usually have much interest in and was gripped; I will hopefully get it out of the library soon (once I've paid off my fines, ahem).

Ben Elton: First Casualty

The storyline is of a conscientious objector policeman being sent into the frontline to investigate the murder of a prominent war hero/poet and aristocratic gay man, Viscount Abercrombie.

The depiction of the first world war trenches and frontline environment seemed realistic. But some of the scenes of the novel were rather far-fetched: such as performing forensics under fire in an enemy trench, which stretched credulity somewhat. Ahem.

Elton leans a little too much towards the didactic in his depiction of the history and politics of the time, which was a trap he fell into with his comedy too. There were aspects which felt squeezed in, so he could cover all the issues he wanted to talk about, such as the suffragette's justified hatred of policeman (the Cat & Mouse Act etc).

I also felt that although Elton tried to depict a free-loving feminist, there was some unfortunate slip-shod thinking in it: *spoilers in same colour as background* I didn't like her sudden and desperate falling for of the hero, which seemed to undermine her independence, nor the fact that to be raped she had to be anally raped. This I think played into issues about "rapability": ie. a woman who is sexually active loses credibility or the ability to say no, (tropes about which there is much discussion on The F-word and in feminism generally). The teenaged girl who is threatened with rape earlier in the book: she is naive and virginal, so threat of 'just' rape is enough for her, but the sexually confident suffragette, she has to actually be raped and sodomised. I think it was unnecessary and smacks somewhat of the virgin/whore construct.

I liked the self-conscious questioning of the investigation of one man's murder in the context of mass-slaughter in the trenches and the futility of war. But it was difficult to tell whether some of dialogue was meant to be funny or po-faced, so I felt the book didn't quite work as well as intended. The protagonist himself wasn't particularly likeable and the ending seemed a bit rushed and too neat.

Overall, it was a reasonable thriller/crime novel. A decent read.

Steven Poole: Unspeak

This book takes you through the language that politicians and the media use and explains how important that vocabulary is. Words can disguise, deflect and mislead in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The book deals with what you probably already knew or suspected, but perhaps hadn't put into words. If you've ever listened to a politician or spokesperson and some of their wording just itched at you, this book may explain why.

To give an example from Poole's book, the insidious use of 'terrorist suspect' rather than 'suspected terrorist'. The two may seem interchangeable but the inflection and meanings which go with them are not. And a lot of time and thought is put into these matters of wording by the people introducing them. The problem with 'terrorist suspect' is that it begs the question and denies the principle of innocent until proven guilty. We can lock up 'terrorist suspects' without trial indefinitely and waterboard them because they're 'terrorists' first and 'suspects' a poor second. With 'suspected terrorists', you'd have to find out whether you could prove they'd done anything or not first, which would be mighty inconvenient.

I found it an eye-opening and thought-provoking read.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good review. I know not this Georgette Heyer of whom you speak. I used to love Anya Seton, she wrote "The Winthrop Woman", a book with a wonderful and well-visualised background of life in New England for the Pilgrims. It's made me forever interested in that era. I don't like the sound of the Ben Elton book. I liked his satire about Big Brother, that was a very good thriller. Can't remember the name, Dead Famous I think? Abster x