2014 in Books – Review of my reading year: Part 1

Recently Read 1: ‘The Commune’ – Margaret Buckley, McGraw-Hill, 9780897765060.

Not an auspicious start to the year. A novel of ideas where any pretence at plot is sacrificed for the sake of getting the point across. There are characters. They have speeches. They talk for pages at a time without drawing breath. Unless their names are mentioned it is hard to know who is who. They spout on like a common room full of tanked up junior lecturers. They are a putative commune on an emerging organic farm during the early days of the organic revolution staffed by junior lecturers. They are throbbing with desire but the words, theories, diatribes on who we are and where we are and why we are get in the way. Everything is told – every emotion, motion, thought and response. Nothing is shown. And then the main protagonist falls off a cliff on the last page and dies. After that, everyone goes home. Did any of it matter? Not at all. Was anything wasted? Well, there was the nasty neighbours with the arsonist son and the incestuous siblings, there was the makings of at least three love triangles, there was potential success or failure of the farm, there was a plot waiting to be born. But it was not to be.

Recently Read 2: ‘Railway Ribaldry’ – William Heath Robinson, Duckworth.

A reprint, not the original GWR publication, sadly, and a bit of a cheap date on the reading front being as it is a book of cartoons, but hugely entertaining nevertheless. You still hear some folk call a piece of teetering engineering a’ Heath Robinson contraption’ and apparently the term passed into the dictionary during the artist’s own lifetime. Anyway, here is the most innocent fun you can have with a pulley, a wheel, a broom handle, a piece of string and a boiling kettle – page after page of witty and ingenious items of equipment designed to solve all those little railway conundrums like how to keep your feet warm in unheated carriages and a thousand and one uses for a railway policeman.

Recently Read 3: ‘The Right Mistake’ – Walter Mosley, Basic Civitas Books, 9780465005253.

The third Socrates Fortlow book. Gripping from start to finish. Enfleshed and sinewy characters whose thoughts and deeds and fates come to matter as they are battered around the system, often shown as outcasts on the edges of the respectable, sometimes deep in the gutter, but almost all with the possibility of redemption swinging just within reach of their fingernails. Fortlow, the sixty year old ex-con, brings new meaning to the words ‘integrity’ and ‘dignity’ even as he battles with his own strength, his violent nature and his knowledge of the crime, darkness and the hidden. This is a tale of redemption, of community, of freedom for individuals and communities, of enslavement, of boundaries broken and of stereotypes challenged. Hard-boiled yet compassionate this is a book about oppression, hope and small changes bringing big results.

Recently Re-read 4: ‘The Owl Service’ – Alan Garner, HarperCollins, 9780007127894.

My first Garner of the year. When I read it as a child it spooked me big time. Partly because I read it under the covers when supposed to be asleep. This time, nearly forty years later, read on the train it still gave me a frisson of a chill. The setting is a valley in Wales. Theplot inhabits an old story involving two men and a woman. It is played out over and over down the centuries. Written down in the ‘Mabinogion’ but also written into the stones of the valley. Two boys and girl meet in the house in the heart of the valley. They find a dinner service decorated with a floral pattern which could also be stylised owls. The old tales rise in as the young folk negotiate their own boundaries. There is a coming of age and a coming of the ages. There is an abrupt ending, but is it really the end? It’s a children’s book, but there are few concessions to childish minds, instead it is a layered, enticing, challenging and lilting story that kept me enthralled and on edge all the way through.

Recently Read 5: ‘How to Paint a Dead Man’ – Sarah Hall, Faber & Faber, 9780571224906.

Let’s start with two points. One – this is an excellent novel. Two – Giorgio Morandi. It took a while to work out the name of the Italian artist who’s fictitious journals were woven into one of the many strands of this painterly, passionate and extremely thoughtful novel. These elements included a the sole surviving twin child of a northern landscape artist, Morandi in his declining years, painting bottles over and over in different lights and different conjunctions; Peter, the landscape painter who had a long-term one way correspondence with Morandi and who was prone to rendering the same gorges and crags time and again; and a blind Italian flower seller, who was taught drawing by the aging surrealist. This is a complex novel full and rich, layered with allusion and meaning. It was a slow read, unfolding gradually, with plenty in each paragraph to ponder on – colour and light, scent and texture – but which remained open ended at the finish. Often I need an ending which ties up all the threads. But this is one of those novels where the unresolved left me with a mixture of hope and desire to know more.

Recently Read 6: ‘Cousin Phillis’ – Elizabeth Gaskell, Hesperus, 9781843911463
It is slim, very little happens but it is full of detail and the tremors of awakening adulthood. Written in the 1860s but set in the 1840s the impact of the railways on rural communities provides the backdrop Cousin Phillis’s first love and first loss as seen through the eyes of her slightly younger Birmingham cousin Paul. Paul is both a perceptive narrator and a naïve young man, he is a quiet observer who is only beginning to find his own voice. Jenny Uglow in her introduction calls the novella ‘a perfect miniature’ and it does have a very polished feel to it, a sharpness of insight that belies its parochial boundaries. Thanks to Sammy Dawson for putting me onto Gaskell – I see we have ‘Cranford’ and ‘North & South’ in th house, maybe I’ll get round to them sometime soon.

Recently Read 7: ‘Thursbitch’ – Alan Garner, Vintage, 9780099459361
More adult Garner. Cheshire in the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries. As with ‘Boneland’ there are connections between the characters in each period. There are tiny tears in time’s framework through which they glimpse each other. The Pennine geography is star of the book, with the stones moving and breathing across mental and physical landscapes. The places are real, the stones are real, the people are real, the gravestone which opens the book is real, but the story is between the real and the numinous. It shines with both a grounding in the old deities and contemporary scientific gods as it reaches out to twist the sobriety of existence on the limits of endurance into a new and earthy consciousness. A book to ponder on and read again.

Recently Read 8: ‘Where Do Comedians Go When They Die?’ – Milton Jones, Robson Press, 9781849543255.

Milton Jones is a very funny comedian. He is great at panel shows – using his effervescent one-liners to reduce colleagues to tears without ever resorting to gratuitous rudeness or any cheap sarcasm. However, being a talented stand-up doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be a cracking novelist. ‘Where Do Comedians…’ is a slight book, not short but slender in terms of plot, characterisation and reason for being. I was disappointed that Jones’s sure-fire wit seemed to have slipped through the text, sieved away to leave a mildly interesting, palely diverting exploration of the graft and grime of growing into a fully-apprenticed funny man. There is a great deal more humour, far fewer words and far more to think about in Milton Jones’s ‘Ten Second Sermons’ than there is in this not quite a novel.
Recently Read 9: ‘The Beautiful Indifference’ – Sarah Hall, Faber & Faber, 9780571230181.

Not sure why these short stories sent me listening to the Unthanks, but they did. There is something eternally aching and perturbably northern about these polished little gems – more Blue John than Sapphire, filled with delicate veining and patterns which unfold like an ever-changing map for a country which you can travel but you can’t define. There is something of Jeanette Winterson’s sharply and economically chosen language in Hall’s stunningly deft prose, but the vision is entirely hers and in each story we find that she is teasing and testing us and pulling us forward into a world where comfort never seems to find a home. Breathtaking.

Recently Read 10: ‘Inferno’ – Dan Brown, Bantam Press, 9780593072493.

Total trash – full review here: https://unsubtlereviewer.wordpress.com/2014/02/12/ceasing-he-rolled-his-eyes/

Recently Read 11: ‘My Tango with Barbara Strozzi’ – Russell Hoban, Bloomsbury, 9780747592716.

Ooo, now this is good: artfully artless writing about a writer writing. Short, witty and structurally satisfying, filled with characters who lift realistically into each other’s lives, this tale of an author whose wife has left him because books are getting boring, his desire for a woman who reminds him of a long dead composer and the re-awakening of a muse is splendidly readable and gloriously memorable. I’ve long been a fan of Hoban’s children’s novel ‘The Mouse and His Child’ but have never tried any of his adult fiction. I’m glad I have and shall be looking for more as I like the way he draws many strands of art and philosophy into a living, breathing portrait of the physicality of existence.

Recently Read 12: ‘Ghost Story’ – Jim Butcher, Orbit Books, 9781841497167.

Aaaargh. So, due to the paucity of volumes of the Dresden Files in the library I’ve gone straight from the first book to the last and have completely missed the eleven in between. Which is such a shame because this is a marvellously addictive series and I ripped through the 600 plus pages of feistily plotted, furiously paced and frenzied sliding through the afterlife, supernature and beyond of this cracking tale of wizardly derring-do. Harry Dresden, Chicago’s first (and only) wizard PI is dead. But that doesn’t stop him from investigating his own murder, getting into a terrible otherworldly war and proving that incorporeality is no barrier for a quick mind and a ready fist. Loved it. Need to read the rest – it doesn’t matter in what order, but if some kind soul wishes to feed me more volumes of the Dresden Files I’m willing to pay them in chocolate, or indulgences.

Recently Read 13: ‘An Exceptional Woman: The Writings of Heather Tanner’ – Rosemary Devonald (Ed), Hobnob Press, 9780946418473.

Wiltshire folk may well have heard of Robin and Heather Tanner. Robin was an artist, etcher, printmaker and observer of country life. He and Heather lived at Kington Langley almost all their life. She was a writer, campaigner, lecturer and thinker. Quakers, they took in a young Jewish refugee during 1939 and he became their adopted son. Together they upheld the traditions of the Arts and Crafts Movement while valuing the best of both modernism and the rural environment they lived in. This handsomely produced (although not without a few irritating errors) hardback, illustrated with some of Robin’s careful and elegant work brings together some of Heather’s personal and public writings in a delightful collection which is perceptive, intimate, witty, philosophical and gently forceful. It gives a picture of a happy, stimulating, fun, creative and nurturing household.

Recently Read 14: ‘Angelica Lost and Found’ – Russell Hoban, Bloomsbury, 9781408810088.

It’s time to ride the hippogriff. The what? The hippogriff. You know, the offspring of a griffin and a mare, the flying creature with the body and hindquarters of a horse and the wings and head of a griffin. Invented by Aristo in his epic poem ‘Orlando Furioso’ as the transport on which the heroic knight Ruggerio saves the beautiful, but naked and chained to a rock, Angelica from the depredations of a sea monster. In this twisting, sliding, time and reality shifting novel, the hippogriff, named Volatore moves beyond poetry and the many artistic images of himself that have been painted by the likes of Ingres, Redon, Dali and Doré to twentieth century San Francisco in search of the elusive and luscious Angelica. Angelica, meanwhile, is trying to piece together the reality of love for a mythical, very potent (and massive) beast. Soaring, meaty, passionate and breathlessly entertaining virtuoso writing from Hoban which was great fun to read and utterly compelling.

Recently Read 15: ‘Louisa Matthiasdottir’ Ed. Jed Perl, Hudson Hills Press, 9781555951979.

This was a total revelation. I’d never heard of Icelandic artist Matthiasdottir and I was completely bowled over by this collection of her work. Her signature style is immense clarity, intensely strong colours and seemingly bold but simple brushstrokes to produce landscapes, still lives and portraits which are inches away from abstraction. The essays in the book, by a variety of authors, including the poet John Ashbery are useful but not mind-blowing. Matthiasdottir was born in Reykjavik in 1917, studied in Copenhagen and New York, married American painter Leland Bell and with Bell and their daughter, Temma, also an artist, split her time between America and Iceland until her death in 2000. As realist painters coming to maturity during the ascendancy of Pop Art Matthiasdottir and Bell were able to develop away from the intense media gaze of the popular critics. The text is secondary to the art. This monograph is beautifully illustrated in full colour and dazzles with the intensity of the colours and the assurance of the brush strokes – each one is essential to the integrity of the painting. Matthiasdottir worked swiftly and prolifically and her mature style is haunting, intriguing, masterful and enduring. I’m completely in awe of her technical skill, her confidence and her vision.

Recently Read 16: ‘Orlando Furioso Volume 1’, Ariosto, Penguin, 9780140443110.

The first six hundred pages of a very long poem, indeed. A very long poem. But a raunchy, chivalric romp. Utterly readable, great galumphing monster hunting, infidel beating, honour preserving (and virgin seducing), character slaughtering fun rammed full of jousting, challenges, romance and trickery. Plenty of loose limbed, golden haired young knights criss-crossing the globe in the eternal quest for glory, honour and the girl. Plenty of beautiful women, some in armour with martial skills to discombobulate or disembowel any passing errant male, some in clothes that are forever falling off. There are blushes and crushes, passion and fashion, sorcery and faithful prayers, history and supernatural tales all rolled into one rollicking ride through the late medieval mind. Twenty-seven years in the writing and stuffed to the gunnels with episodes that have inspired some of the greatest artists in the West. Here flies the Hippogriff, there lies the fair Angelica while Bradamante, Olimpia, Ruggerio, Charlemange, Rinaldo all take their place on the battle field or in the boudoir. Orlando is the greatest warrior of all, forever searching for his love, who is always just around the next corner. He only gets furious in the last six pages of volume one – and I’m not sure if I have the time or energy to cope with his anger for another six hundred pages. On the other hand, this is pre-sci-fi on a monstrously epic, sonorously sensuous scale.

Recently Read 17: ‘Counterfeit Gods’, Timothy Keller, Hodder, 9780340995082
I’ve not got on with Keller’s books in the past. I found ‘The Prodigal God’ to be weak and pale compared with Nouwen’s ‘Return of the Prodigal Son’ with many similarities but with no acknowledgement of having drawn upon it. ‘Counterfeit Gods’ again doesn’t seem to be saying anything new. But what it is talking about is perfectly sound and clearly discussed. Keller gives us a very pithy reminder that there are aspects of our lives which can easily take us over, can obscure our view of true realities and can stunt our moral and spiritual lives, deforming and twisting us into dysfunctional organisms.

Recently Read 18: ‘Jesus and Money’, Ben Witherington III, SPCK, 9780281062546
‘Jesus and Money’ is an erudite, witty, well-researched and, above all, highly readable overview of money, monetary systems and financial values both in the Bible as a whole and, more specifically, in the teaching of Jesus. Witherington puts biblical wisdom within the context of ancient economies quite different from our contemporary systems, he lays to rest some materialistic red herrings such as the prayer of Jabez, he highlights the continuous and ongoing biblical concern over oppression of the poor by the rich and provides a clear assessment of the teachings of Jesus, James and Paul and the writings of Luke on wealth, poverty and generosity. Following his reading of St John Chrysostom adopts his motto ‘when in doubt, leave it out’. This might be a crude rendering of the great saint’s profound asceticism, but it chimes well here as one means to turn money from a tyrannous oppressor to a tool for generous living.

Recently Read 19: ‘The Money Secret’, Rob Parsons, Hodder, 9780340995969
Where other books about money focus on systems Parsons, in ‘The Money Secret’ (Hodder, £7.99), sticks with the individual. In this seemingly gentle book a debt-ridden young woman, Amy, who is about to take her life, is saved by an ‘angel’, Lydia, who leads through her past, other people’s present, and some potential futures, to expose how her spending has overreached her earning, what can be done to manage her debts and the steps she can take to ensure future financial stability. Through this simple premise Parsons reveals a great deal of information about the dangers of credit cards, the insidious inscrutability of APR, the fearsome bombardment of special offers, peer pressure and add-on financial products, as well as the empty pleasure of ‘retail therapy’. That Parsons’ ‘money secret’ was well known by Mr Micawber does not diminish the quiet power of his message – despite all the ways we are being encouraged to spend there is much we can do to control our own budgets, to hold back from buying more unneeded stuff and to focus on some of the intangible virtues that create a good life.

Recently Read 20: ‘How Much Money is Enough?’ Robert Skidelsky & Edward Skidelsky, Penguin, 9780241953891
‘How much is Enough?’ is a great title for a book. It is a truly pertinent question, tackled forthrightly by Robert and Edward Skidelsky in their much quoted and heavily critiqued exposé of the insatiability and instability of current economic systems.

Beginning with John Maynard Keynes’s 1930 essay ‘Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren’ which posits a future working week of 15 hours that opens up an almost endless vista of leisure time, the Skidelskys examine how and why Keynes’s prediction has been so far off the mark and how we might reshape our economics and politics to make way for a less stressed, more leisured, more equable future. To accomplish this they reject traditional financial measurements of growth and instead promote seven virtues for a good life: health; security; respect; personality; harmony with nature; friendship; and leisure. Honourable virtues, but are they genuinely measureable? Their solutions to achieve this good life – a basic citizens income; a curb on advertising to hold back consumerism; taxes on expenditure and financial institutions – are a big government response that flies in the face of an economic model based on continuous growth. While that doesn’t necessarily make them wrong, the political will to bend in this direction is not easily discernible.

Recently Read 21: ‘Living on the Border’, Esther de Waal, Canterbury Press, 9781853119620.

Liminality is vitality when it comes to spirituality. The edges of reality can be both the most unnerving and the most invigorating aspects of existence, they shade out into possibilities and altered landscapes, they are the doorways into the other, the veil that protects the sight from the immeasurable. Borderlands can be physical – think of Alan Garner’s writings on Alderley Edge – or they can be the moment of sacring, the invitation into the circle as with Rublev’s icon of the Old Testament Trinity. They can be notoriously difficult to define – try the Tardis or Radiohead’s ‘Pulk/Revolving Doors’ or most of Murakami’s fiction, and yet they can be utterly and completely transformative.

De Waal’s slim little re-write of an even slimmer earlier booklet is both a marvellously grounded exploration of edginess and attractions of living on the border and a gateway to the possibilities of other realities. With her feet firmly planted in her homeland of the Welsh border country she explores the pull of marginal places using the art of David Jones, a vivid collection of poetry (included in an appendix) and the wisdom of a life dedicated to openness and possibility. For such a tiny 112 page book it packs a powerful spiritual punch.

Recently Read 22: ‘Arcadia’, Tom Stoppard, Faber, 9780571169344.

I’ve heard this play on the radio before, but prior to seeing a performance later this week (more on that story later), I thought it might be a good idea to read the text. One room in a country house over two centuries with one set of props and two sets of characters who sometimes inhabit the same playing space but not the same moment, it sets up a backwards written vision of the green and pleasant idyll of the landed gentry. There are academics trying to shoehorn exhibits into theses, architects who want to carve out their name in the latest landscape style, precocious children with a notion for disproving Newton and precious adults dressing up their lives in the clothes of the dead. The past exists as relics which can be moulded into a monstrous variety of realities depending on who grasps them and how twisted is their grip.

Recently Read 23: ‘The Shepherd’s Song’, Betsey Duffey and Laurie Myers, Hodder, 9781444792966.

Woman has car accident, prays ‘Please, let my life count’ and a piece of paper on which she has written out Psalm 23 then travels the world changing lives line by line. As there has been some hype declaring that this is the new ‘Shack’ you’d expect me to be both wary and dismissive. Which, on some levels I am. Because there is much here that seems trite, simplistic and twee which is not helped by some weak writing and some poor editing. My overall impression is that this is a sentimental and emotional book. I distrust emotional responses to faith and distrust even more anything that wrings emotions out of us to elicit faith responses. But that’s me. Perhaps I’m not the target audience. This might not be good writing but it is not a bad book. The short stories of lives changed by a line from the psalm have resonance, they have some imagination, they connect simply and with some force, both to each other, to the reader and to the overall story arc. There is a purity of vision here that underscores the goodness that the book contains. I wouldn’t recommend it for any literary prizes, but there are customers who I think will find it uplifting and perhaps quietly challenging.

Recently Read 24: ‘Medieval Wall Paintings’, Roger Rosewell, Shire, 9780747812937.

It is amazing that any devotional wall paintings survived the ignorance, violence and iconoclasm of the pestilential protestant deformers, however, there are many relics of once grand plans to be found in a surprising number of our churches up and down the country. They are the faded shades of a time when liturgy was filled with colour, energy, scents, sounds, extensive symbolism and deep mystery. There is good evidence that many churches were once covered top-to-toe in colour – painted walls, painted pillars, painted rood screens. Sometimes these were biblical scenes, sometimes they were moral lessons, sometimes they were stories of the saints both global and local. Possibly there for education, certainly for devotion, perhaps simply for the glory of God and as they were cheaper to create than stained glass they were everywhere. This is little introductory guide is packed with revealing and inspiring photographs. The text is informative but dry. Very dry, flatter than the walls upon which these images were painted, but it still gives an intriguing flavour of a fascinating subject… and possibly the inspiration for my next art project.

Recently Read 25: ‘Cold Days’, Jim Butcher, Orbit, 9780356500959.

Ha. Not so long after reading ‘Ghost Story’ I find the next volume of the Dresden Files in the library. It is the sort of read you tumble into headlong and roar through relishing every knife twist, spellbound by each pummelling round of backstabbing, treachery bluff and triple bluff. By now you know that whatever Chicago PI wizard Harry Dresden, or the Winter Knight as we now must call him, gets up to he is never really in charge of his own destiny. The fun comes in seeing how deeply clogged in the mire of magical mayhem Harry can become before one of his overly fearsome foes turns out to be more-or-less on his side. This is high quality entertainment embedded in a fully realised world of humans and faerie that overlays a sparkling sense of both moral and mortal identity and integrity onto the overwhelming fury of the eternal fight for supremacy of, if not good over evil, then not-so-evil over the truly horrific. Loved it, can’t wait to get hold of ‘Skin Game’ whenever the library condescends to cough up a copy.

Recently Read 26: ‘A Lost Lady’, Willa Cather, Virago, 9780860681267.

A novel as slender as the lady described yet sharply observed, written with economy and elegance and carrying a stiletto pain beneath its pastoral tone. A young lad on a prairie town in the early twentieth century survives the breaking of his idolisation of the younger wife of the town’s honourable old captain. Marian Forrester is beautiful and compassionate, never talking down to the young and the poor around her yet unable to keep a check on her energy and appetites which her ailing ex-railroad manager husband is unable to provide for. Captain Forrester keeps his dignity to the last, Mrs Forrester scrabbles to retain hers, and possibly does, and Niel, the young friend of the family remains a participant observer who is strengthened, not harmed, when he glimpses the fallible frailty of the one that he adores.

Recently Read 27: ‘Isabel’s Skin’, Peter Benson, Alma, 978 1846882951.

I’m a bit of a Peter Benson fan, especially for ‘The Levels’ and always look forward to his novels. However, because he doesn’t want to keep rewriting his first novel and he likes to try different genres and styles I don’t always get the satisfaction I’m craving from his work. I love the way he writes about place, especially the south west, and so was pleased to find that the opening chapters of ‘Isabel’s Skin’ were set in Somerset. Here, while as ever the land and its people skilfully blossomed into a disturbing and slightly out of kilter landscape, the gothic horror plot, which originally struck me as a southern stab at ‘The Woman in Black’, was never convincing enough to keep me on the edge of terror. There was such an obvious way for the plot to slough itself out of danger that I was continually on the cusp of shouting out ‘but what about…?’ and ultimately I found the ending tame, innocuous and unsatisfactory.

Recently Read 28: ‘Death Comes for the Archbishop’, Willa Cather, Virago, 9781844083721
New Mexico in the 1850s, two young French priests on a mission to rejuvenate the folk Catholicism of the people and to reform it into a coherent Diocese, one which can stand up to the rigours of the fiery political system and the rigours of papal structures. Both priests are drawn with a fine complexity that mirrors the intricacies of the land and the peoples they lived with, served, inspired and led. A deep and rich tale, powerful written with compassion and detail. I wonder whether Graham Greene knew this novel – it has close resonances with Greene’s masterpiece ‘The Power and the Glory’. Greene’s tale of the last priest sticking to his post in an unidentified South American country has an immensely formidable and dramatic story arc. Cather is more gentle, yet still manages to convey the tenacity and solid faith of her protagonists. Both books are about aliens immersed in a foreign country who have binding ties with the land and its peoples, both books flesh out the supporting characters in all the mess of their humanity but it is Cather who treats each one with the most dignity and there is something quietly hopeful about the fortitude and wisdom of her two priests that outplays Greene’s flashily redemptive ending.

Recently Read 29: ‘The Lacuna’, Barbara Kingsolver, Faber, 9780571252671.

Long, absorbing, much more readable than ‘The Poisonwood Bible’, until near the end, when it has the same power to make the reader squirm at the folly, bloody-mindedness and blinkered inhumanity of man. Characters such as Leon Trotsky, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, heroes of the modern age, are rendered vividly and tangibly. The overwhelming horror that was McCarthyism and the post war communist witch hunt in the US grows into a many-headed monster devouring and destroying anyone who shows any form of nuanced intelligence or belief that life cannot be reduced to black and white categories. Reading this while the UK is becoming engulfed in the rise of the unimaginative, platitude spewing, intelligence denying far-right was quite chilling. It feels like a short hop from a UKIP election victory to the denigration and abuse of all who stand for anything different.

Recently Read 30: ‘Against the Odds: True Stories of Forgiveness and Healing’, Carmel Thomason, BRF, 9781841017396.

Out of war, terrorist attack, rape, divorce, addiction, family rows, come these stories told in their own words by the individuals at the heart of them. Following each story is a reflection by someone who knows the teller and then there are questions for further thought and discussion. Terrible things happen to people in these stories, but none of them tries to sensationalise it. Each talks with pain in the remembrance, but also with insight about what happened to them, who were the perpetrators, if known, how they survived, grew, came to some point of forgiveness, experienced some sense of healing. Each story is very different, each person reacted and behaved in their own unique way, but the common thread is the hard fought and ongoing rising above what was done to them so that while it might define and to some extent limits their lives it never diminishes them. The stories were interesting, the reflections and questions didn’t feel very penetrating.

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