Within the UK, MI6 is something of a revered institution. It hasn’t been as tainted as the NSA, or even MI5 and GCHQ to an extent within the UK in the recent privacy revelations. Instead, it still maintains its image of chivalric and sportsmanlike conduct combined with an efficient ruthlessness. Obviously a certain amount of this image is sparked by popular culture, James Bond is the predominant example. He is suave, sophisticated, and sexy; the embodiment of cool and he gets the job done for the good of the country.
If you asked me a few years ago what my calling was, I would tell you I was born to teach. I loved being around elementary school children, seeing the world through their eyes. I taught music, and I loved seeing the kids build skills, learn concepts, and enjoy making music.
Then everything changed. Without going into detail, teaching became a burden rather than a joy. Recognizing that the educational paradigm was shifting, I tried to roll with the changes, telling myself I could hang on until things got better.
They only got worse. Demands increased as resources dwindled. Morale at my school plummeted. My stress level rose. After grieving for three years over my profession’s shift from rewarding labor to drudgery, I resigned in May of 2014. I had to. I couldn’t suffer it one more day.
After World War II ended, there was jubilation amongst the general population, a feeling that this time, everything would get better. Indeed, the jubilation sparked a huge increase in the number of children, a generation subsequently known as the ‘baby boomer’ generation. The world was a different place then, different brands, different values, and different expectations. But above all, the people were different. It is said that childhood shapes a person’s adulthood, and so it is only natural that someone who had a childhood so far removed from today’s experiences should write about the experience.
Intriguing insight into life and discrimination after ‘The Great Depression’.
There aren’t many books named after poems. Personally I can only think of two, one by Christie, and one by John Steinbeck, whose work Of Mice and Men is so called after a poem by Robert Burns. Amongst the lines in said poem is “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft a-gley”-basically even the most carefully thought out schemes will always go wrong, following Murphy’s Law (‘what can go wrong will go wrong’). And in Of Mice and Men, there is a lot that can go wrong.
Could be and should be the next big thing.
I have just finished Graeme Shimmin’s A Kill in the Morning, and I loved it. It beautifully blends several genres with astonishing ease, notably the alternative history as that exemplified in Fatherland (that where an alternative history leads to the story, rather than the alternative history being the story), and the gripping thriller/action plot as in James Bond films. This blending makes for a fantastic read, even though personally I may disagree with the comparisons with the other media above (more on that later). The story twisted and turned, yet maintained a strong pace throughout and was a real page turner.
Child 44–there’s something fishy afoot
When reading Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44, I was reminded of something. I couldn’t think what it was when I was reading it, but later I realised: I was reminded of Robert Harris’ Fatherland. Granted, one was in Germany and one in Soviet Russia in the Cold War, but there were striking similarities. The main characters are good guys in a bad world, they live in authoritarian dictatorial nations, but don’t worry, they’re both good guys (that was sarcastic if it didn’t carry). Smith’s first novel reads exactly like Harris, and I’m not convinced if that’s a good thing.
A Clockwork Orange–a very naughty boy gets sent to the naughty step.
In my first return to The List for two months is Anthony Burgess’ infamous classic, complete with notorious nadsat. A Clockwork Orange is in many ways an odd book, and one which took some time to get into the swing of. However, when I did I found a story with a cracking plot, killer cast, and bemusing language-not unlike The Lord of the Rings! All of these make it a first class novel, and a deserving classic.
I have been a fan of the TV shows Endeavour and Lewis for some years, but for some reason have never seen-or read-an Inspector Morse mystery. As a mystery, Colin Dexter’s Service of All the Dead was intriguing, and I particularly liked the way the characters of Morse and Lewis were brought across. Two deaths, both deceased men are from the same Oxford church. One murdered, one apparent suicide. Chance leads to renowned police officer Inspector Morse taking another look at the original police findings, and trying to shed some new light on the case.
Did you know that a primary contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary cut off his own penis, before throwing it into a fire? As Mark Forsyth tells us, this is termed autopeotomy (ignoramus that I was before reading the book I didn’t know what this was). Before Forsyth’s The Etymologicon, I didn’t know that the Oxford English Dictionary, that pillar of English society (mostly used for the game of Scrabble, another pillar) was written by a Scotsman and an American. The Scotsman left school at 14, the American was, at the time of helping write the most influential dictionary ever, was in Broadmoor. Yes, it is that Broadmoor, the high-security hospital of psychiatry. This is only one of the strange quirks that defy belief in the anecdotes of English, and Forsyth is the perfect person to give us a guided tour of English.
The alternative history genre has bred some shockers, but fear not. Robert Harris’ Fatherland is, quite simply, brilliant. It’s one of my favourite books. Thought provoking and thrilling in near equal measure (well, not really, it’s quite a bit more thrilling with some thought provoking bits thrown in for good measure), it embodies everything that the genre should aspire to, it is surely the pinnacle of the alternative history genre. The fact that there were no good Nazis is challenged, the protagonist Xavier March attempts to get to the bottom of the murder of a leading Nazi.