His ideas spread quickly and were taken up by other theologians, who were often protected by German princes who had their own secular reasons for rejecting Papal authority, until it had become an unstoppable theological and social movement. He points out how the corruption of the official church had already alienated many Christians from public worship and created through the 15th century a cult of private devotion. It was onto this fertile ground that the anti-establishment teachings of Luther and his followers fell, and proved so fruitful.
Thus Reformation theology tended to foreground personal piety, meditation and reflection — moving away from bravura displays of big ostentatious public ritual. It was during the post-Reformation 16th century that landscapes and still lifes came into existence as genres in their own right. His mature work dates from the period of the High Renaissance s to but is the extreme opposite of the vast panoramas of human history being painted in the Vatican the Sistine Chapel, the Raphael Stanza.
Instead, Massys typifies for me the virtues of northern painting, with its small-scale atmosphere of domesticity, its focus on real, living people — not the Prophets and Philosophers of Michelangelo and Raphael — and its portraits not of heroic archetypes, but of plain ordinary and, sometimes, ugly people.
The northern Reformation was suspicious of religious imagery. In many places it was stripped out of churches and burned; in others merely covered up. Certainly the market for grand altarpieces collapsed, and the period saw a rise in other more specialised subjects. Critics from centuries later define these as genre paintings. Portraits also became more secular and more frequent, a trend which produced one of the most wonderful portraitists of all time, Hans Holbein the Younger.
Harbison explains a lot about the technicality of northern Renaissance painting. Some of the most notable learnings for me were:. Some works were painted on linen but almost all of these have been lost. A small number were painted directly onto metal and some onto slate. Tempera, also known as egg tempera, is a permanent, fast-drying painting medium consisting of coloured pigments mixed with a water-soluble binder medium, usually egg yolk. Tempera also refers to the paintings done in this medium. But as the s progressed, northern artists experimented with using oil as the binding material — first mixing colour pigment with oil then applying it to prepared surfaces.
This required paintings to be put to one side for weeks at a time to fully dry before the next level could be done — a repetitive process which explains the incredibly deep, rich and luminous colours you see in these works. There is ongoing debate about where precisely it originated but it was definitely a northern invention which headed south into Italy. You can see some masterpieces from this period for free in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery in London:.
Ever since Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin published The Sixth Extinction in , we have known that humanity is extirpating species at a rate unmatched since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Hunting, deforestation, the introduction of nonnative organisms and diseases, and now climate change have increased the rate of species loss to the point that scientists fear for the functioning of entire ecosystems…. In this pioneering book, Leakey and Lewin take us by the hand through recent in discoveries in ecology, palaeontology, palaeoanthropology and geology, to present a whole new worldview, a new way of seeing the natural world and our place in it.
This is that we — human beings — are NOT the product of some ineluctable force driving evolution towards higher and more sophisticated species and, ultimately, towards Mind and Consciousness. We are emphatically not the pinnacle of the universe. We now know that the long fossil record of life on earth has been marked by countless disasters, accidents, extinctions, most of which have no intrinsic or logical rationale, and that we are the incredibly fortuitous outcome of these massively random events.
Older naturalists held that there was a Balance of Nature whereby the complete global system of life worked together to keep things — oxygen levels, complex ecosystems — in a careful balance which favoured the optimum thriving of life forms. But the closer we look at the record, the more obvious it becomes that there is no balance of nature.
It is also much more complex than we ever suspected. Taken together, these two ideas suggest that flux and fluctuation are an intrinsic part of the history of life on earth. Humans long for predictability, in relation to the world of nature around us and, most particularly, in relation to our own existence and our future. But it is obvious that, in the realm of evolutionary biology and ecology, ours is an unpredictable world and our place in it an accident of history; it is a place of many possibilities that are influenced by forces beyond our control and, in some cases at least, beyond our comprehension.
The more we learn about the extinction events, the more obvious it becomes that we are the lucky survivors of the lucky survivors of the lucky survivors of a whole series of catastrophes, not through any intrinsic merit in our forebears who, if you go back far enough, were worms but from sheer dumb luck. These periods have lasted tens, sometimes hundreds of millions of years — but the history of life on earth is certainly not the slow, steady evolution of more and more sophisticated life forms, as portrayed in older evolutionary theory.
In other words, by the accidents and arbitrariness of History. For a variety of sources now suggest that Homo sapiens is and always has been, immensely destructive of the ecosystems around him. Due to the fact that hominids need water, and the mud around rivers and lakes preserves footprints and the bones of dead animals better than the harsh savannah or bare rock, Lake Turkana has been a goldmine for fossil hunters looking for relics of our earliest ancestors. This book — itself now quite dated — combines his two areas of expertise to give a thorough and quite academic history of the evolution of life on earth and to situate the evolution of hominids and Homo sapiens within it, before going on to present its Big Issue.
Most of the epochs and periods we hear about — Jurassic, Triassic etc — occur during that million period, most fossils of life forms derive from that period. There is no doubt at all what is causing it: The conglomeration of all the continents through continental drift into one mega-continent? The most dramatic suggestion, first mooted in the s by a team led by Luis Alvarez, is that it was asteroids. They found thin layers of iridium at the archaeological line marking the end of the Cretaceous period, an element which is extremely rare on earth but is found in asteroids.
This discovery has been replicated at other end-Cretaceous sites, and then a candidate for the giant crater caused by a monster asteroid was discovered on the coast of Mexico. The idea is simple: Others — David Raup and Jack Sepkoski — have pointed out that there have been over twenty extinction events over that half billion year span, of which the Big Five are only the most notable p. Only the recurrent arrival of a shower of asteroids could explain this regularity, although more recently doubt has been cast on the evidence for this neat pattern.
Is there an inevitability in the way life has evolved? If we ran the tape of evolution again, would life forms turn out much as we see them around us? Is there a kind of deep logic to the way things would have evolved, to fit the available niches? Or has the evolution of life on earth been subject to mind-boggling accidents and contingency? Could things easily have turned out wildly differently? Was it the merest luck which led to the various mass extinctions, to the death of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, to the rise of the mammals and then, right at the end of this string of improbable accidents — to us, reading these words?
These and many related questions are tackled — with the help of quite technical diagrams and explanations — in the first half of the book. It takes a few rereadings to get the timelines clear in your head, and then more rereading to understand what the numerous debates are about. For example, uniformitarianism is the idea that evolution takes place gradually and slowly over vast periods of time.
Darwin had to arrive at his theory by battling essentially religious ideas that species were suddenly created by a Creator God, so he and his followers were vehement uniformitarianists. However, from the birth of geology as a science in the early 19th century, geologists recognised sudden abrupt changes in the record — catastrophic changes in the fossil record which the extinction events seem to support. Broadly this view of evolution is called catastrophism. He reports Danish scientists who investigated one square metre of tropical rainforest and discovered 46, earthworms, 12 million roundworms and 46, insects.
Just one gram of this soil contained more than a million bacteria, , yeast cells and 50, fragments of fungi p. The rape and destruction of the earth which we are causing is mind-blowing. Along with this loss and degradation, we are losing some plant, animal and insect species every day — or some 50, species a year. Between 12, and 10, years ago 50 or so large mammal species went extinct in North America.
The extinctions coincided with the arrival of the first peoples from Asia across the land bridge across what is now the Bering Straits and their slow fanning out across the continent. Although some paleontologists prefer climate change or disease as the cause, many think these first human settlers of the Americas hunted its large mammals to extinction. How many species are there on earth? Leakey quotes an early estimate from the s of 3 million.
Terry Irwin, in , estimated there may be 30 million species of insects alone in the rainforest canopy. In other words, despite E.
What we can be confident about is that we are wiping out most of the species we share the earth with before we ever get to discover, identify, record or analyse any of them. It appears to be about 1. How do we preserve nature? Well, in our demystified, instrumental, capitalist world, we have to give it a value, the only thing most people understand. Leakey identifies three types of value:. Food and drugs are the obvious ones. The world is dangerously dependent on monocultural varieties of a handful of food crops. Similarly, important worldwide medicines have been sourced from wholly unexpected wild plants and flora.
Aspirin and penicillin are the two obvious examples, which changed the world and saved hundreds of millions of lives. Who knows what cures for cancer or AIDS may be lurking undiscovered in some of the , species of plants? And in species we are merrily burning to extinction every day? Even twenty years ago when this book was published, all educated people should have known about the destruction of the rainforests and endangered species. Plenty of paragraphs contain numbered points or aspects or theories which we need to learn and bear in mind.
For example, we learn about:. Nature now appears to be much more chaotic than previously suspected. Archaeologists examined the fossil record of animals off the North Atlantic coast over the past 60 million years, a huge duration during which sea levels rose and fell six times. They discovered that mature ecosystems repopulated the dry land once it was reflooded — but each time it was repopulated by a different combination of species.
There is nothing intrinsic or inevitable about the flourishing of particular species or combinations of species in ecosystems. Shake the dice and you get a different set. As Leakey puts it, History matters. Life there will be, but what forms of life and how they combine, even in the same environment, can vary hugely depending on chance factors.
It makes us realise what was at stake back then, as well as now. It makes us realise the depth of the damage we have been doing, and for centuries. Obviously the planet is indifferent to individual human opinions, attitudes and stands. Only a wholesale and comprehensive change to all of our lifestyles, combined with drastic attempts to control and reduce human population, will have any real, practical impact on the problem.
On a personal level, this knowledge does suggest a truer, more accurate understanding of human nature destructive and our place in the natural world destructive which should have a chastening effect on everything we think and do. It transforms our understanding and it should transform our behaviour. A correct attitude, the accurate honest attitude to the devastation we cause, would be one of modesty, shame and penance. In a way, understanding these issues better should lead us to a kind of attitude and — ideally — lifestyle, characterised by simplicity and humility.
All of us need to consume less, vastly less, than our arrogance and ignorance and selfishness prompt us to. A proper understanding of our place in the world should lead to the virtues praised by monks and nuns of all religious orders: Only then, maybe, despite all the evidence to the contrary, might there be a slight possibility of hope that we do not exterminate most life forms on the planet including, of course, many that we depend and rely on for our own existence.
In order to know ourselves as a species and to understand our place in the universe of things, we have to distance ourselves from our own experience, both in space and time. It is not easily done but it is essential if we are truly to see a larger reality. This long country house sequence is very funny. In the event Gordon travels there by train, sees a bunch of other, genuinely posh guests at Hungerstream station who all ignore him, a chauffeur-driven car takes them all to the enormous house and then a whole series of comic episodes ensue: This long sequence fits the theme of the novel, which is the English class system, but mostly it is an opportunity for Amis to relentlessly takes the piss out of the English upper classes, their braying inability to speak properly, their permanent drunkenness, their outrageous rudeness — which all around them tolerate and put up with because all around them are themselves such awful social climbers and snobs.
Which is why she began her affair with him — Gordon. Lucky Jim-style, Gordon drinks himself insensible at the big evening meal at Hungerstream and so misses some kind of showdown which takes place between Joanna and Jimmie. All the cast members return to London next day in various stages of hungoverness and high dudgeon.
But soon enough the novel hurtles towards its denouements. This made it a little challenging for the reader to orientate herself within what presented themselves as long continuous floods of prose.
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As a result, the book is both easier to read and gives a stronger impression of pace and focus. It revels in vagueness and inconsequentiality with none of the characters ever thinking or saying anything plain or logical. Some of them are dismissive, conveying an irritable, short-tempered attitude in the author or character:. At that moment she got out of the green chair and strolled towards a window or a picture or a bookcase… p.
More than one in a sentence creates a diminuendo effect: Even regular conversation feels like a burden he has to sit through, miming appropriate expressions of happiness or understanding or interest as best he can. The downside is that nobody in Amis ever seems able to get to the point, if indeed there is a point. Abandon all hope of crisp, pithy, pointed dialogue.
Relax and enjoy this world of confusion, uncertainty, vagueness and misunderstanding. The absent protagonist The net effect of all these peculiarities is that quite often the hero seems to be only barely present in his own life. Gordon was emboldened to drop into his efficient television-cockney. Although mostly played for laughs, this problem with Time and experience seems to me to be the issue underlying all his novels. He is, like so many other Amis men, completely useless. Funny Sometimes Amis escapes all his mannerisms to be just funny about the world we live in, sometimes very funny.
Wishing he had been drunk, Gordon got on a bus apparently reserved for winners and runners-up in some pan-European repulsiveness contest. After a short while there presumably sounded some buzzer or kindred device inaudible to Gordon and all at once Lady Rowena withdrew her attention from him so totally that he felt like glancing down at himself to make sure he was still there. Moments like this are like spending hours trying to tune a radio and suddenly stumbling across a clear audible signal, or hacking your way through a jungle and suddenly stumbling into a clearing and strolling across it nice and easy.
Most of the time we are subjected to the wandering divagations of the all-too-easily easily-distracted prose. The telephone was ringing when he got back home, which circumstance made that place seem much less bleak and comfortless. On every page Amis bends and distorts the language but not towards the crisp expressiveness of Americans like Martin Cruz Smith — not towards clarity or modernity — but clotting together an array of old-fashioned English phrases and idioms with what often seem to be experiments in seeing just how convoluted a sentence can be twisted before it breaks.
There was an empire to run and a comparatively barbaric peasantry and proletariat to be kept down. The, the remnants of the class system operate in the other direction. Dukes and what-not complain that their titles hold them back, get in the way of their careers in banking or photography or whatever it may be. Joanna is aware that her family money was part of the reason Jimmie married her — and that fact that wife number two — Lady Rowena — has recently come into a lot of money is the main reason Jimmie seriously considers dumping Joanna and remarrying Rowena — until he actually meets her and remembers how ghastly she is.
Or do a structuralist or narratological interpretation which saw the characters as blocks or units whose overlappings and intersections create nexuses of energy and rest which make up the dynamic patterns across the text. Or you could inject some morality into the analysis e.
But I prefer to stick to a more stylistic analysis of the actual words on the page, of the deformations or innovations or habits or oddities of language of which the text is actually made up. From this more limited point of view the emphasis on the theme of social class has two results:. I really enjoyed this book. The focused story and the use of short chapters make this a more enjoyable read than its immediate predecessors. And, against all expectations, I found myself warming to Jimmie the snobbish old writer. The long excursion to Hungerstream, the vast country pile of the Duke of Dunwich, was a refreshing change of scene for an Amis novel, so many of which usually take place in rooms in north London houses where people get drunk or are miserably unfaithful to each other.
The change of scene seemed to revive his writing, making it both more funny and more moving than in recent books. All references are to the Flamingo paperback edition. Very funny in a sometimes rather desperate way. Some hilarious scenes rather damped down by the wrenching portrayal of his genuinely hurt wife.
Lewis eventually rejects the whole monied, corrupt scene and moves with his wife to a small mining town where he feels more in touch with his Welsh roots. In particular the male lead, dashing James Churchill, who has a genuinely touching love affair with beautiful and damaged Catharine Casement. Long, windy, self-pitying, misogynistic. Long and gruelling until its surprisingly moving and uplifting conclusion.
His most enjoyable novel for years. Instead of being harshly punished, Clive finds himself being exonerated and forgiven by everyone, which leaves him boiling with rage and frustration. The Praelector waited in the drawing-room, staring out into the pulsating night and thinking about the May Balls he had known in his youth. They had been sedate affairs and he had enjoyed them enormously, swinging round the Hall doing the quickstep or a foxtrot and, most daringly of all, the tango with a polished liveliness and delight that was a world away from the mechanical Bacchanalia the young now seemed to crave.
- Able to Stand!?
- Grande Sonata - Guitar.
- Ich befreie mich von deiner Sucht: Hilfen für Angehörige von Suchtkranken (German Edition);
Not that he blamed them. They were drowning out a world that seemed to have no structure to it and no meaning for them, a monstrous bazaar in which the only recognised criteria were money and sex and drugs and the pursuit of moments of partial oblivion. But it took 21 years for this sequel to appear and, in the event, there are only two Porterhouse books, this being the second and last one. And — crucially — the kind of swearing and sexual explicitness which felt taboo-breaking and transgressive in the s, were no longer nearly as shocking in the mids, and now — in — feels run-of-the-mill.
The fictional Cambridge college of Porterhouse has a reputation as being the most reactionary college in the university, but its finances are in a dire state. Much of the infrastructure is peeling and dropping off. The college is run by a council of Senior Fellows and the plot consists of following their bumbling and farcical attempts to drum up new financing for their alma mater.
Now Skullion is permanently ensconced in a wheelchair and only intermittently capable of speech. So off they go to find money. The Dean goes to visit Old Porterthusians around the country who, predictably, turn out to be various shades of nasty, drunk, impoverished and violent, notably the Honourable Jeremy Pimpole of Pimpole Hall, Yorkshire, who was once a gay blade but has turned into a violent alcoholic with a vicious cur. Although the coroner ruled it accidental death caused by excess of alcohol and then Sir Godber tripping and cracking his skull, Lady Mary is convinced his death was murder.
To confirm her suspicion she gives her dubious lawyer six million pounds to endow a new position at the college, the Sir Godber Evans Fellowship and, after some comic business with various unsuitable candidates, appoints the earnest and upright Dr Purefoy Osbert to the post. She hopes Osbert will expose the murder and turn up enough evidence to convict the whole pack of Senior Fellows who she loathes. And when he meets the sinister head of the operation, Edgar Hartang, he learns they are all copying him. In this deranged state, he eventually reveals what we sort of suspected, which is that Transworld is a front for massive involvement in drug smuggling, but not actually making the shipments — TTP uses its offices worldwide and its international documentary operation to launder and clean drug money for various clients: Obviously, his first reaction is to consider hiring contract killers to wipe out these limey motherfuckers, but he is restrained by his own lawyers, who advise actually paying up.
In fact Sharpe shows us the lawyers themselves taking steps to distance themselves from their criminal client. Having established all these plotlines by half way through the book, Sharpe spends the next pages detailing their increasingly out-of-control complications. At his Induction Dinner, the fellows get Osbert drunk and are worried to discover what his real mission is and how much Sir Mary already knows, or suspects.
Intrigued, Osbert conceals himself nearby and overhears their conversation. Apparently Skullion has heard rumours that the Senior staff may be trying to replace him as Master and is infuriated. The Dean blusters that no such thought has crossed their minds and walks on to his rooms, appalled — but not as appalled as Osbert.
He has discovered the the truth Sir Mary wanted revealed after only a few weeks. But what proof could he bring in court? Everyone would deny it. What should he do with this knowledge? They rifle through his desk and correspondence and come across the fact that Osbert has an unrequited romance with a Mrs Ndhlovo. Taken aback by the explicitness of the material, the naive Osbert fell comically in love. So, in increasingly preposterous scenes, the General finds himself dressing — or rather laboriously squeezing — her into a PVC cat suit and then blacking up the exposed parts of her body.
She wants to be married to a Fellow at Cambridge. So the odd couple come to an understanding. In fact they become an item and the reader almost comes to think of them as real characters who are a little bit in love. This is an example of the way sexual satire no longer has the same bite. The fact that Wilt is in ownership by accident of a blow up sex doll has the potential to end his career. This explains why the scene where the police show the General all the sex equipment seems oddly muted and is very brief.
Now, 20 years later, post 50 Shades of Grey , it has almost no comic impact at all. However, it is a trap. The ambulance which comes to collect him instead takes him off to the feared Porterhouse Park, a grim boarding house overlooking the bleak north Norfolk coast, where other super-annuated college staff have been sent to eke out their last days. Osbert, surprised that Skullion has disappeared, discovers his fate and goes to visit him with Mrs Ndhlovo.
Skullion begs to be helped to escape, so Osbert and girlfriend return with a transit van and some rope, liberate Skullion and spirit him away to a safe house in the suburbs of Cambridge. For days on end Skullion talks non-stop into a tape recorder. The Praelector shocks the College Council with his plan at their next meeting, but by bullying and blackmail manages to swing the vote to get Hartang accepted as new Master.
Hartang will get cachet and safety from the various forces pursuing him. The College will get a vast amount of money. Hartang comes down from London to check out his new domain and begins to be coached by the senior fellows on the manners and etiquette that will be required. Because, coincidentally, four British intelligence officers visit him at this Canary Wharf headquarters.
He agrees to co-operate with them in exposing all he knows about various drug-smuggling cartels, so long as they agree to him becoming Porterhouse Master. A week later his most dangerous enemy, one Dos Passos, is found dead in a mysterious car crash in South America. The security forces have done their job well. None of this is particularly farcical or even comic. In fact it could come from a Frederick Forsyth novel.
I thought the climax of the novel would be the annual May Ball. But nothing like that happens. In fact, throughout the novel the undergraduates are conspicuous by their absence. They are actually there — it is term time — but not a single one is referenced by name. In fact the climax comes a week or so later when there is the grand feast to inaugurate Hartang as Master. Against this background, there is this huge feast with all the fellows and students in their gowns and regalia when, at the climax of the meal, the waiters sweep through the magnificent doors of the Grand Hall bearing vast platters carrying numerous roasted boar.
Even mention of the name makes him go pale and fumble for his medication. Now, as the waiters spread out and approach the High Table bearing huge pigs at him from all sides, Hartang staggers to his feet, has a heart attack, and dies. Both Skullion and the Praelector are now seen resignedly residing at the retirement home looking over the sea. As his last act Skullion named his successor to be the Honourable Jeremy Pimpole, the appalling alcoholic who the Dean encountered early in the book.
Neither Lady Mary, nor the world at large, will ever read it. So she is going to quietly leave him. Broadly speaking, satirists tend to be conservative and right-wing in their thinking, preferring the old ways and satirising trendy new-fangled notions. More striking is the strong vein of anti-Americanism which runs through the book. It is a deliberate humiliation of him and all he stands for — amoral billionaire American criminality. Sharpe died only recently, in I wonder what his cast of comedy dons and duffers from Porterhouse would have made of it.
I wonder whether these topics crop up in his final novels…. All quotes and references are to the Pan paperback edition. Thus begins a very tangled web in which he palms it off as the work of a pitiful failure of an author, one Peter Piper, and on this basis sells it to both a highbrow but struggling British publisher and a rapaciously commercial American publisher, who only accept it on condition this Piper guy goes on a US tour to promote it.
Accompanied by the stupidest boy in school, and armed with guns from the OTC, master and pupil end up shooting some of the attendees at a conference on international peace taking part at said chateau, kidnapping the Comtesse — who turns out to be no Comtesse at all — and blowing up a van full of French cops, bringing down on themselves the full wrath of the French state. The Germans have reached Warsaw. They are fighting their way through the streets. This he does, his men concealing it under the floor of ordinary carriages, and then filling up with refugees at Warsaw station before a long journey south, punctuated by an attack by a German fighter plane, which leaves numerous dead and injured, and later, a holdup by violent Ukrainian bandits, which leaves more dead.
Eventually they make it to the Romanian border and both refugees and the gold are allowed in. October , Poland has fallen. From the safety of Romania de Milja returns into Poland, first to make sure his mentally ill wife is alright, at her asylum, then to set up a network in occupied Poland. The recruitment takes place in room 9 in the basement of the Saint Stanislaus Hospital.
They tell the civilian population they are dropped by RAF planes and soon bombers will return to drive the Germans out. A little while later the printer is rounded up by the Gestapo. De Milja and colleagues realise someone has snitched. They execute him in a dirty alley under a railway bridge. Madame Kuester De Milja moves around, never staying in the same safe apartment too long. In one apartment he has an affair with the stodgy Madame Kuester, a stocky, disapproving middle-aged woman who turns out to have a need to be passionately taken doggy fashion every afternoon at 2.
Network information An old lady buying rags outside a Wehrmacht barracks, sells them on to a rag dealer who passes them to a chemist who analyses the type of oil. A commodity analyst in Warsaw writes a report about wool. So it will be France. The other inhabitants, who knew about him, make it downstairs and escape.
De Milja climbs to the roof, evades the armed guard there, but slips and falls badly against the fire escape of the neighbouring building, concussing himself. He is helped to safety, hidden, then shipped out of the city to a safe farmhouse where he is patched up and slowly recovers. He is now ordered to evacuate to Paris.
There is fascinating detail on the Polish underground and its ability to match the German obsession for paperwork. De Milja is smuggled north to the port of Gdinya, then into the hold of a steamer carrying coal to Stockholm. Cut to a completely new character, Boris Lezhev, a depressed Russian poet who has fled before various persecuting authorities right across Europe.
We are just getting to know his depressive personality when he actually does die by suicide? They are very clearly pulling out, burning their files etc. There is some mockery of the stupidity of the French in building a defensive line against Germany which stopped at the Belgian border. And wonder at the way an entire nation just gave up. In the middle of the night French security come calling at his safe house, but he is able to bribe the officers, then pack and slip away. He finds somewhere to hide in the shabby area around the Gare Saint-Lazare.
De Milja adopts the cover of the dead poet Boris Lezhev and commences a steamy sexual affair with Genya. In his cover as a bohemian poet he is often found at the notorious drinking hole of artists, the Bar Heiningen well known to Furst readers for its appearance in his first two novels.
He spends a lot of effort cultivating a German officer, Freddi Schoen, who thinks he is an artist. Along with a colleague, Fedin, de Milja is ordered to scout the forthcoming invasion of Britain, buys a black market delivery van and delivers produce all along the north coast, Dunkirk and so on, logging the numbers of barges on the canals, the names of Wehrmacht units etc, all despatched to a year-old girl who radios it in code to London.
She is tracked down by a German radio expert, arrested, crunches a cyanide pill in the Gestapo car. When the obese German radio expert begins to unscrew the captured English radio it explodes killing him. De Milja passes on information given to him by a French patriot who works in the northern docks about a practice invasion exercise. This results in the British bombing the port of Nieuwpoort, which the narrative describes at first hand. The narrative stops to introduce us to a public school Englishman who flies a Swordfish biplane with a torpedo into Calais harbour just as De Milja achieves a piece of James Bond heroism by making his way right across the armed and secure harbour to find a ship he knows, from the dockyard papers their agent gave them, is loaded with burning naphtha.
As the British planes approach de Milja lights up its night lights so they can attack it creating a wonderful explosion by which the rest can bomb the moored German troop ships and barges at will. De Milja has romantic lover sex with Genya in an isolated hotel by the coast.
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Then she leaves forever to Switzerland and he burns the Lezher identity. De Milja is exfiltrated to Spain, debriefed by agents. Vyborg tells him his wife has died of TB. He is returned to Paris with a new identity, as Anton Stein. I found it hard to believe that a man who had led quite a high-profile life as a Russian poet, would be returned to the same city a month later, looking the same but with a quite different identity, for the first thing Stein does is buy a big coal business, and use it as a cover a for being a rich businessman in Paris b for finding information about German troop and resources movements.
He hobnobs with rich Parisians and Germans. It is spring and the British are bombing. He is called suddenly to a church in the east end where he finds Fedin, his fellow agent, has been mortally injured in an air raid. If they could ambush that coach and massacre the pilots… When this intelligence is passed to London, they reply by parachuting in a cache of arms, explosives and French agents, all co-ordinated on the ground by de Milja.
But at this moment de Milja is recalled to London. He says goodbye to sexy Madame Roubier, his other colleagues, travels to the Spanish border, is collected by a rubber dinghy from a submarine, arrives in cold wartime London, eats the horrible food, and is set to do depressing bureaucratic tasks. De Milja is parachuted into occupied Poland, near the river Bug, with arms, ammunition, explosive, money, to join a partisan group led by Razakavia, backed by Kotior and Frantek.
Bronstein the ex-science teacher uses the explosive to blow up rail lines, derailing troop trains which they then decimate with grenades and machine gun fire. In other words, the bloodlands are full of roving bands of killers. When he meets with his control, Major Olenik, he is ordered to organise a squad to break into Rovno prison and liberate a certain sergeant Krewinski, who escaped the Katyn massacre, and was sent to Moscow for indoctrination.
ZWZ wants to know the procedures, what he learned. In a very tense sequence de Milja leads his men on a successful break-in to the prison, they liberate Krewinski and others, and drive in a lorry to a safe farmhouse out in the country. Which is attacked by a mass of partisans, following a tip-off, in the early hours.
Everyone de Milja knows is killed in the fighting and he just manages to escape with the badly wounded Krewinski, and with a Jewish woman. Under a hail of bullets they make it to the lorry and then there are four or five pages of struggling to drive it through the dense Polish forest in the depths of winter, until they come to a river and find it easier to drive on the thick ice, until the river narrows and the ice becomes so slippery it will no longer advance.
De Milja and the woman huddle under all the blankets they can find, expecting to falls asleep and never wake up, killed by the bitter sub-zero temperatures. But he awakens some hours later to realise it is fractionally less freezing, realising it is snowing. They will head down into the town once the curfew is lifted, contact the local ZWZ, be given somewhere to hide and food. They will fight on. This is shorter and less epic ie with a smaller range of characters, than the previous two novels. The prose of this third novel is deliberately more casual than the crisper, more documentary factual style of the first two.
The escape-route safe house in Torun was run by a girl of no more than seventeen, snub-nosed with cornsilk hair. De Milja felt tenderness and desire all mixed up together. Tough as a stick, this one. Made sure he had a place to sleep, a threadbare blanket, and a glass of beer. The previous novels saw things from a variety of viewpoints, and the characters were interesting and varied and — crucially — the situations were highly political.
This novel is much more about the one personality, the Polish officer, and there is still a lot politics, a lot of background information, but somehow the book feels less politic al. In section two he visits his mentally disturbed wife and they make love on a coat in the asylum grounds. It was the sheer contrast of the moment that struck his heart. The dying, ice-bound city, heavy with fear and misery and the exhaustion of daily life, set against these brittle pages of print, where gold passementerie was untied and heavy drapes flowed together, where pale skin flushed rose with excitement, where silk rustled to the floors of moonlit chambers.
It feels like de Milja has a different woman in each of the five sections, each with lovely bottoms, and given to role-playing, saying rude words, lots of sex play and frolic. Too many times to count, the reader finds themself in the company of exotic and strange characters, as if in a movie. Maybe all novels are escapist in that they tell a complete rounded story, unlike our own messy lives. But one especial pleasure of this kind of novel is the sheer exoticism of the situations which amount to a mental holiday — abroad, with strange collocations of foreigners, thrown into intense and unusual plights.
Hence, de Milja has barely checked into a provincial hotel before the British fighter bombers come swooping in to attack the docks. On the top floor of the dockside Hotel Vlaanderen, de Milja and a whore wearing a slip and a Turkish seaman wearing underpants watched the fight together through a cracked window. There is something touchingly naive in the ubiquitousness of whores and prostitutes in these novels, as in many other adventure novels.
Whereas in ordinary life none of us ever sees a prostitute, in the Paris de Milja walks around every doorway shelters a hooker who whistles, whispers and propositions him, hotels are full of them, you can barely move for them. On the night Fedin dies, de Milja has just arranged for two courtesans to give Count Riau the experience of his life in a private room at a classy restaurant, and when he returns to his drinking buddies they drink a toast to The Pleasures of Excess.
These are historical novels, set in a specific historical period, overflowing with period detail and dense with historical fact.
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There is a certain kind of pleasure to be derived from rereading once again the horrible chronology of the s, the Stalin purges, the Hitler invasions and then the war itself. The characters, as spies acting for governments with vested interests in political events, play a part in them, shed light on them, discuss them and analyse them. In doing so they bring out a wealth of new and fascinating perspectives on what we thought was a well known period of history. Thus the early two sections vividly convey not just the shock and horror of the German assault on Poland, but the wild opinions the Poles held at the time — the British are coming, the Americans will intervene, we will be saved.
For 9 months from September until June , many Poles clung on to the hope that the French and British will intervene to save them somehow. But then, in June , France fell to Hitler, almost without a fight. Not something I knew or had thought about. Again, in the final sections de Milja meets his control in the occupied city of Rosnov and they discuss the possible scenarios: We know what happened. Unfortunately, we are inextricably involved with each other and I have to find him for my own salvation and probably for his.
His uncle Bob left Tim a winery in Devon where he now makes a nice living, keeping up his collection of eighteenth century barometers and Chinese Chippendale footstools. He was married to Diana, who also worked for the Service, but she divorced him years ago. More recently into his life has moved a highly-strung young female composer, Emma, half his age, temperamental, sexually inventive. And so Larry embarks on some years working as a British double agent.
After the Berlin Wall comes down along with the USSR, Tim retires and helps Larry get a job at the nearby University of Bath, as a left-wing politics lecturer, tiresomely bleating on about the failings of the West and espousing various good causes. One day she leaves. Maybe he seduced her, the beastly cad. A few weeks later the police come to interview Tim and tell him Dr Pettifer has gone missing.
Tim swears complete ignorance, in fact amazement, at this fact. He is told to keep his mouth shut and packed off back to Cornwall. Furious at Larry for seducing Emma, Tim lured him to a deep and legendary small lake — Priddy Pool — where he fell on him, battering him unconscious and dragging him by the feet over to the pool and throwing him in.
Apparently not, as the evidence builds up that Larry not only survived, but persuaded Emma to run away and join him on his quixotic crusade. Here Tim discovers a trove of paperwork supposedly connected with a carpet import-export company, which he naturally concludes is a front for laundering money and transporting arms to the heroic Ingush freedom fighters. It is a terrifying milieu. An unfortunate man has been tied to a chair and obviously tortured, and bleeds and moans in the corner of the office throughout the meeting. After a cursory questioning, Tim is taken away from the office, shoved downstairs into a makeshift cell and locked up for ten days.
He can hear the sounds and smell the cooking of the Ingush families above him. Two young men with Kalashnikovs come and chat and smoke with him. Eventually he is dragged out of the cell, given his coat and gloves back and dragged upstairs, outside and through deep snow to a van, then driven for miles beyond the ruined outskirts of Moscow to a shabby settlement where he meets Checheyev. As a small example, the narrator refers to. The famous Pettifer forelock, now shot with grey but still swinging across his brow in immature revolt.
Is the Pettifer forelock famous? Have you heard of it? Has anyone heard of it? And what other world is there, old boy? Is the Pringle boardroom table famous? This kind of coercive, blustering, shallow myth-making about the chaps occurs on every page. A typical piece of bombast and un-humour in one sentence. And b I never for a moment was at any risk of thinking his boss in the Service was Zeus.
Zeus was the father of the Greek gods. Jake Merriman was his boss in the Intelligence Service. Not hard to tell the difference.
Sinister Island by Wadsworth Camp
Was Tim ever the King of Babylon? Typical of the kind of schoolboy exaggeration, of giving each other over-the-top nicknames, of striking heroic poses and exaggerated attitudes, which sometimes lingers on into university and then most people grow out of. But not these characters. The entire toolkit of immature schoolboy affectation, facetiousness, silly nicknames and affected superiority appear to stay with them for life.
The more they come over as boring middle-aged losers pathetically dramatising and legending each other. Larry… in his role of Secret Protector of the Righteous once more, goes through his paces like an angel. But Larry is not a Secret Protector of the Righteous, is he? No such position in fact exists.
Larry is a narcissistic and tiresome ex-intelligence agent. And what I see is Larry, seated before the gasfire, clutching his goblet of hot wine to his breast, a Byron of his own imagining… p. I have locked her in a hollow mountain in the Caucasus, he replied. I have seduced her in accordance with my blood-feud against the infidel Tim Cranmer. I have swept her away on the white stallion of my sophistry. Instead of thought — bombast. Instead of psychology — melodramatic and somehow childish exaggeration.
Gone the dreary stories of academic lowlife. Hundreds of pages are devoted to the special qualities of his lover, Emma Manzini, who comes over as anything but special, rather as a self-obsessed, self-righteous nincompoop, but who prompts in the narrator an endless stream of gushing schoolboy, sub-Keatsian rhapsody and narcissistic self-dramatisation.
Emma made me a cup of tea — the heavens reveal their splendour. Is she plain dumb? Emma defies theses categories. Emma as mistress of the Freudian doodle. These colours, why had I never painted them? Emma, you were all these hopes. You lucky dog, Timbo! But do not jump to gross assumptions, impatient reader: Sometimes in the depth of night she creeps into my room like a thief and makes love to me without saying a word.
Then creeps away, leaving her tears on my pillow before the daylight finds her out. There are hundreds of passages of pompous lyricism like this, the book overflows with them, repeating over and over how in thrall he is to the wonderful, quixotic, paradoxical Emma. But if he is deluded about this, what else may he be getting wrong?
Interspersed among the scores of passages of overblown lyricism are moments of quietly smug sexual bragging which are cringe-inducing and embarrassing. I saw her naked on her stomach with her chin in her hands, turning to look at me over her shoulder as she hears me enter. I remembered the kiss she had given me at the Connaught that had woken me from my hundred-year sleep, and how her instinctive ingenuity as a lover had taken me to regions I had not known existed.
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Celia was one of my local conquests from the days before Emma… She lived in penury on a large estate near Sparkford and rode to hounds… p. She is neither of the age nor category from which my usual conquests are selected: Of course he has. Oxford fell in love with him. He was very good-looking. The girls rolled over for him in droves.
Women came to him naturally, he just had to reach out for them and they hopped into his hand. Of course they do. Worked in the silk trade. A little later, and even more pissed, Jamie recalls legendary Larry turning up to suggest an improper financial deal, accompanied by an absolute stunner, black hair piled up on her head,. Absolute fatal weakness of mine. Love a black bush. We were alone, Merriman and Cranmer, blood brothers as always. It is years since Cranmer has stepped outside the limits of his self-confinement, played the brave game, waited impatiently for evening, lain awake till dawn.
I, Cranmer, evader, closet romantic, veteran of a raft of futile love affairs, had fallen cloak-over-dagger for the oldest trick in the book! But Cranmer had filed. Cranmer had filed and forgotten. Cranmer in his criminally negligent myopia had consigned the cause of the Ingush people to the dustbin of history. I was part of them, propelled by my past as they were, ignorant of my future.
I was a fugitive, homeless and stateless, a small nation of one. Timbo is, as the old phrase has it, a legend in his own lunchtime. A man convinced of his own vast self-importance, a man who takes pages to tell us this fairly simple story, because it is so larded and padded out with prolonged sequences about jolly old Larry and ever-flexible Emma and, at its centre, Cranmer the hero, Cranmer the fool, Cranmer the innocent, Cranmer the cynic, Cranmer the whatever adjectival phrase you have to hand.
The narcissistically self-obsessed have no sense of humour because they have a very poor sense of other people. My Uncle Bob, who founded the business for love, put a lot of trust in his Maker and rather less in science. It is a truism that public schoolboys never seem to outgrow their schooldays, the clothes it taught them to wear, the jolly japes and smug banter it taught them to consider funny, the network of other public schoolboys which comprises the only world that matters.
Everything, ultimately, ends up being compared back to those jolly halcyon or beastly days. When he was with me, he was at school. Fagging, flogging, bullying galore, the whole Arnoldian package. Crossing the footbridge at Castle Cary station, I was confused by the clatter of young shoes in the Victorian ironwork and fancied I smelt steam and burning coals. I was a boy again, lugging my school suitcase down the stone steps for another solitary holiday with Uncle Bob. Crammed against the stone wall stood the old school trunk I used as a filing box for my CC archive.
I remembered that this was how we had always eaten, when we ate our frightful meals together: From nowhere an old man appeared at my car window, and his gnarled face reminded me of the groundsman at my first boarding school. A piece of cake. Another way the sensibility and language of the novel are permanently inflated is via the liberal use of religious quotes and references. This throwaway hijacking of religious rhetoric denotes not an ounce of genuine religious feeling; it is just one more way of bigging up, exaggerating, and dramatising his ego:.
I was standing arms outstretched in crucifixion… p. I choose the Grill Room at the Connaught, my shrine for great occasions. I smelt roast beef and wood smoke. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Sinister Island by Wadsworth Camp , please sign up. Be the first to ask a question about Sinister Island by Wadsworth Camp.
Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Sep 14, Cynthia Maddox rated it it was amazing. I really loved this book! It is the first time I've ever read this author but if I have my way, I'll read the other five he's written. Although the book published in , the writing is not overburdened with the overblown use of language that many novels of this period tend to have and it flows smoothly.
I was immediately hooked from the opening chapter and only put it down, reluctantly, to go to bed. I finished it in two days while recovering from a cold. The story opens with the main character, I really loved this book! The story opens with the main character, Miller, traveling on his boat, the Dart. He is headed to a southern island to visit his best friends. The opening immediately sets up the "sinister" aspect of the island with it's dark history but Miller is well supplied with common sense and marks it all up to foolish superstition. After his arrival, Miller is shocked by the changes in his friends and events escalate rapidly.
Even Miller begins to feel the pervasive foreboding that seems to wrap this island and is determined to prove that it isn't supernatural, but of human origin. I was totally charmed by this story. It had all the elements that make a good, traditional ghost story without clinking chains, silly women wandering halls with candles, and things that go bump in the night.
Instead, Camp builds suspense by making the island as much a character as the people and he provides an intelligent cast of characters determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, regardless of the cost to themselves. Read this on a stormy night! I had great expectations for this book as it started off with an exciting premise and setting. As I read further it became a little too far-fetched with not enough details. It never became a page-turner for me, and while it wasn't a bad book, I found myself not really caring about how it ended.
Bavanz Devanraj rated it it was ok Dec 04, Denny Stein rated it liked it Jun 25, Sarah Hyatt rated it liked it Jan 21, Shine Moon rated it it was amazing Mar 01, Cynthia Maddox rated it it was amazing Oct 31, Moa Chinkitinkiwa rated it it was ok Mar 18, Cathy rated it liked it Mar 10, Marts Thinker marked it as to-read Jan 22, Doreen marked it as to-read Apr 14, Donna Cheney marked it as to-read Apr 26, James marked it as to-read Aug 16,
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