Saturday, 19 November 2011

She was a woman in a crowd, surrounded but alone

The Report by Jessica Francis Kane is a superb, heartbreaking, human read. It's a fiction-based-on-fact retelling of the 1943 disaster at the Bethnal Green tube station/bomb shelter. 173 people died on the stairs into the shelter, crushed to death in the crowd on a night when no bombs were dropped on London.

Although we know from the blurb (or general historical knowledge) about what happened that night, the structure of the book allows the story of the alert, the rush, the crush and the aftermath to develop in parallel with our growing understanding about how it happened and the cumulative stories of individuals and their individual actions which contributed for good or ill. The author presents each of them as rounded individuals, and the magistrate appointed to investigate and write the report takes a similar approach. 

We hear from the warden who put a brighter light bulb onto the stairs, the various council bureaucrats who hadn't approved funding for a handrail, the police man who chose to stop a group of small boys for playing with torches rather than hurrying to his post at the shelter entrance, the clerk transfixed by the green soles of a girl's shoes, a harassed mother hurrying to the shelter with her daughters.  The result was a human report, put together with ceremony and sympathy, and written to explain, understand and heal. 


There's a whole separate strand about telling the truth. The magistrate did not apportion blame - and chose to omit a crucial detail about how the crush started because he was worried about tensions in the community. The Government also refused to provide information about whether new guns had been fired that night (which might have sounded like bombs landing and exacerbated the crush), and sought to suppress the report, because it was worried about morale in the community. In the individual case of the magistrate and told through a sympathetic point of view the decision to suppress information seems sensitive, decent and constructive - but a similarly motivated approach by the Government seems patriarchal, patronising and obstructive. Interesting.

I read this book because two reviews - by Rachel at booksnob and Darlene at roses over a cottage door - both posts are well worth a read, as is this article. I loved this book, and am about to start to press it on everyone I know.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Autumn sunshine

Autumn is my favourite month. I love the back-to-school excitement of a new year, new pens, a clean new book. I love the colours of the leaves and the sense of the season spreading through the city's streets and pavements. Most of all though, I love the days when the air is cold, the sky is a darker blue than summer and the heat of the sun on your back is coming from a lower angle. Autumn sunlight is a different colour from summer sun, and it catches things looking different.

"There is a harmony
In autumn, and a lustre in its sky,
Which through the summer is not heard or seen,
As if it could not be, as if it had not been!"

- Percy Bysshe Shelley

Ten books I've bought but not yet read

Here goes

  1. The Leopard - not my usual thing, but recommended by a book group friend who said it's stayed with her for weeks since she read it. 
  2. The Odd Women - bought because of an intriguing review, and because Darlene is about to start reading it.
  3. Perfect Lives - my book group choice for December.
  4. To the North - I've been looking for it for ages because I loved The Last September so much, and have read most of her other stuff. This review prompted me to look again, and I'm really looking forward to it. 

Friday, 11 November 2011

Two for tea

This week's weekword is 'tea' - and it sparked two thoughts for me

Firstly - the lovely Orla Kiely designed fair trade tea dress from peopletree (not cheap, but move fast when there's a sale on and there's some lovely stuff...)

Orla Kiely Tea Dress

And secondly - what a regionalism 'tea' is. To me, it's my evening meal at home - also known as dinner if I'm being a bit formal and eating out, or supper if it's really late (or a second tea!!). Being brought up a Mancunian means that I eat my dinner at lunchtime (!), and a mid-afternoon cuppa and snack is a cup of tea, not 'tea'. What a source of discussion in my tipsy undergrad days...

Weekword this week came from the Gift Shed - follow the link to see some gorgeous photos and get a list of other participants.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Revved up...

Rev is back on telly - I cannot say enough about how great this programme is. Warm, funny, affectionate, hopefully not too realistic. Ralph Fiennes as the Bishop of London, Olivia Colman as the long-suffering and brilliantly funny Alex. Watch it, tape it, iplayer it, whatever. 

Monday, 7 November 2011

We deal in lead, friend

Each year, my book group chooses a book from the Booker shortlist - we pick before the winner is announced, and with an eye to an interesting read rather than trying to pre-empt the judges.

This year, we went for The Sister's Brothers. It was refreshingly different from our normal reads in its focus on a relationship between men, a masculine point of view and a male author, and most of the group found it readable and enjoyable. 

Those people who'd been brought up watching westerns 'on a Saturday afternoon, while your mum did the ironing and you were pairing socks' enjoyed it much more than others (and maybe it says something about the target audience that most of the quotes on the back cover are from authors of other westerns). We had a good debate about whether the book had 'literary merit' in its innovative characters and black comedy. Although I quite enjoyed Eli's narrative, with its emphatically partial view of the world, I'm not convinced it should have made the Booker shortlist. 

I've already read and loved Jamrach's Menagerie, and quite enjoyed Snowdrops (though again, great story not sure it had the lasting impact that I'd expect from a Booker candidate). I normally try to read the whole shortlist - any suggestions for what next?

Quote is Steve McQueen in the Magnificent Seven (1960)