Thursday, 8 January 2015

What I've been reading

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The Lie
by Helen Dunmore

narrated by Darren Benedict
"Cornwall, 1920: A young man stands on a headland, looking out to sea. He is back from the war, homeless and without family. Behind him lies the terror of the trenches. Daniel has survived, but will he ever be able to escape the terrible, unforeseen consequences of a lie?"
It was quite a good book, and the parts about the experience on the front line in WW1 were dramatic, gruesome, and evocative. The parts about the ex-soldier rebuilding his life but unable to shake off the traumatic reliving of the experience were also good, but his relationships with the people around him were a little sketchy. It ended as it had to, but was a little unsatisfying. Which was a shame.

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The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde

narrated by B. J. Harrison
"After Basil Hallward paints a beautiful young man's portrait, his subject's frivolous wish that the picture change and he remain the same comes true. Dorian Gray's picture grows aged and corrupt while he continues to appear fresh and innocent."
Another classic of English Literature narrated by my US podcaster. I suppose there just aren't enough classics of American Literature that are out of copyright, but I wish there were. To be fair, he doesn't do a bad job with this one. It's interesting to be reminded that the picture in the schoolroom (not the attic) features alongside what I suspect was Wilde's main pleasure: writing about Art, Beauty, Love and the mores of the upper and lower classes in the late 19th century.

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The Siege of Krishnapur
by J. G. Farrell
"In the Spring of 1857, with India on the brink of a violent and bloody mutiny, Krishnapur is a remote town on the vast North Indian plain. The sepoys at the nearest military cantonment rise in revolt and the British prepare to fight for their lives with what weapons they can muster."
Set only about thirty years before the publication of Wilde's book above, this is a very different kettle of fish. I wasn't sure what to expect - it was a birthday present - and I'd read most of the book before deciding that it is more of a historical account than a story. If I were familiar with the history of India then I feel sure this would have provided colour and life to flesh out any dusty historical account. As it is, I now know a little bit more about the history of India.

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Love in a Cold Climate
by Nancy Mitford

narrated by Patricia Hodge
"Groomed from a young age for marriage by her mother, the fearsome Lady Montdore, Polly causes a scandal when she declares her love for her uncle, the lecherous lecturer, and runs off to France."
Outstanding narration of a great book - at last, my list of 'must read classics' has come up with something worth listening to. The characters all sound like real humans, even if raised in a social milieu quite different from anything I've ever experienced. Even though there isn't much of a story as such, in the hands of this author that doesn't matter - it's still fascinating and keeps me wanting to hear the next chapter, and Patricia Hodge reads superbly. It's the second of a trilogy, and I've already lined up the first to download soon. A sparkling, wonderful book.

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In Search of the Edge of Time
by John Gribbin
"The phenomena now known as black holes were described as early as 1783 and dismissed as idle speculation - invisible stars sounded just too implausible to be taken seriously. It was only with the development of radio astronomy, relativity theory and mathematical models of warped spacetime that their true significance became clear. "
As is usual in a book such as this, despite the clear writing, I feel very clever at understanding it up to about halfway, and then wallow about, hoping something will come into focus by the end. It usually doesn't. But I liked the first half, and even though I didn't really grasp the full impact of the argument, it says that time travel is possible, although seemingly not practicable. It was published in 1992 which is a long time ago in particle physics, but again I don't have the knowledge to determine what has been confirmed, ruled out or succeeded by more modern theory. The statement I liked the best was that our Universe might actually be located inside a black hole.

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