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    7. Crossing to Safety - Wallace Stegner

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  • Posts

    • Number 3 in the series, stash-busting
    • I loved Memorial Device - For The Good Times feels like an awkward second novel. Basically we have some lads who are into comics and laughs who've joined the IRA. First they take over a comic shop in Belfast, then they end up on the mainland plotting atrocities.    It was good, funny in parts and horrific in others. But basically, I didn't buy the characters and very specifically, I didn't buy Sammy, the main protagonist. The boys seemed to be driven neither by ideology nor by psychopathy. i just don't believe the Ra would have taken on such uncommitted, ill-disciplined jokers.    Sure there's some nice scene setting - Belfast and the Ardoyne in the 70s and some wonderful, biting humour. But the politics was done better in Milkman, and the humour was done better in The Fire Starters. For The Good Times does try to break out of the genre of Troubles novels, but in doing that it sort of becomes a parody of itself.    There have been worse Troubles novels (mostly by Americans) but this is far from the best. All this is made more disappointing when we know how well David Keenan can write and innovate from Memorial Device.    ***00
    • The Old Man and The Boy service an off shore wind farm out in the North Sea, way beyond being able to see land. They live on a platform (I imagine Sealand) and their view is just the sea and various generations of decaying turbines. As one turbine dies, they cannibalise its parts to repair others. The Boy is there to replace his father who broke his contract. The Old Man has always been there. They are serviced by a quarterly supply boat whose master runs a black market trading racket. He trades the lagan and jetsam that the Old Man is able to fish up from the seabed in return for the supplies that might stretch the lifespan of the turbines.    There is no beginning and no end. The Boy and the Old Man have no past life; they have no future. There is no boundary to the wind farm and the sea. There is no hint of anyone who might benefit from the wind farm.    The Boy and the Old Man are suspicious of each other. With just one another for company - and the creaks and grand and bangs of the plant as it is ravaged by the sea - they try to live independent lives despite being mutually dependent on one another. They care for each other and they hate each other.    Bizarrely, this reminded me of the vast cattle stations in Australia, remote and isolated, farmers living in grinding poverty to supply a wealthy nation that they seldom see with their meat. And inevitably - probably intentionally - it reminded me of The Old Man and The Sea. Almost nothing happens, just the battle between man and nature that nature always wins. And then, there were also shades of the final scenes of The Truman Show as Truman sails for a shoreline he doesn't even believe exists.    The book is short, the writing is spare and stylised. But despite the bleakness, there is a warmth in the writing that keeps the reader engaged. Through the boredom and drudgery and backbiting we see genuine affection that the odd couple feel for one another. We see that some of the mutual suspicion and prying might have come from good hearts.    The novel is interleaved with occasional fragments from a past when Doggerland was dry land, inhabited by people who could never have imagined the horror of the grey, windswept sea. It is never clear whether these snippets were long ago and the sea is the present day, or whether the land is the present day and the sea is the future we all face.    Either way, it has made me feel that we all owe a greater gratitude to those who endure hardship to support the comfortable lives that many of us lead.    Doggerland is a short novel, but one that leaves a deep impression.    ****0
    • About to start The Playmaker by Thomas Keneally
    • I bought this book 8 or 9 years ago, but didn't start it because I'd just finished another of Anne Tyler's books and I liked to space them out. I didn't mean it to be quite so long - but I have finally read it!   I had read the "Missing Person" report that acts as a prologue to the story before I put it away. The descriptions of Delia are vague and confused -  it is clear that none of her family ever actually looked at her. At that time I was pretty sure that my family would be similarly pushed to describe me, so that may be why it stayed at the bottom of the TBR pile for so long.   Anne Tyler has been one of my  favourite authors for years, but I did find it a bit hard to re-connect with her way of writing about family relationships. I was a bit worried that I had 'gone off' her. But no! Once Delia makes her unintentional break for freedom I quickly became fully engaged.    For someone of her background, married young to her doctor father's partner, never leaving the family home and only ever working as her father, and then her husband's clerical assistant she shows remarkable initiative and fortitude in finding herself accommodation, a job, a new wardrobe and a completely different way of relating to the world. The characters she meets and connects with are very typical of Tyler, and give a warm friendly picture of very small-town America in the '90s.  A couple of family members trace her, but she feels no desire to return to Baltimore, and so more than a year passes. She changes her job, and becomes housekeeper and childminder to a man separated from his wife  and becomes involved with their wider family.   Then she gets an invitation to her daughter's wedding. She tells her employer that she will be away for a day or two, but the wedding doesn't exactly go according to plan, and she is drawn back into being the mother who fixes everything. In the meantime she is getting phone calls from her employer and his son asking when she is going 'home' to them...   So, after a bit of a rocky start with this book, Anne Tyler is back as one of my favourite authors     
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