Tuesday Intro: Call for the Dead

imageOnce again, I’m linking up again with Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea who hosts a post every Tuesday for people to share the first chapter / paragraph of the book they are reading, or thinking of reading soon. In really enjoy these tasters when I read them on other blogs so wanted to join in.

This week, after reading a lot about John Le Carre this last week or so, and realising I’ve never read any of his books, I’ve picked up Call for the Dead, the first featuring his most famous character George Smiley.  Here’s what it’s about…

25345317After a routine security check by George Smiley, civil servant Samuel Fennan apparently kills himself.

When Smiley finds Circus head Maston is trying to blame him for the man’s death, he begins his own investigation, meeting with Fennan’s widow to find out what could have led him to such desperation. But on the very day that Smiley is ordered off the enquiry he receives an urgent letter from the dead man.

Do the East Germans – and their agents – know more about this man’s death than the Circus previously imagined?

And here’s how it starts…

When Lady Ann Sercomb married George Smiley towards the end of the war she described him to her astonished Mayfair friends as breathtakingly ordinary.  When she left him two years later in favour of a Cuban motor racing driver, she announced enigmatically that if she hadn’t left him then, she never could have done; and Viscount Sawley made a special journey to his club to observe that the cat was out of the bag.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Emma

Harry's Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith

HARRYS LAST STAND-B-HB.inddWhen I read this book a few weeks ago I hadn’t originally planned on reviewing it, although I’d enjoyed reading it. Then, over the weekend, with Ian Duncan Smith talking about trying to build a fairer Britain all over the news, the book kept coming back to me and I changed my mind because the messages it is trying to get across are ones I think we should be listening to.

Published in 2014, the book is a series of essays which reflect Harry’s thoughts and feelings about growing up in the Great Depression and the pride he felt in the country after the war when we created the welfare state so no one would have to suffer the indignities and inequalities he did as a child. And they show his anger and despair at the dismantling of this welfare state by the then coalition government.

It is a highly emotive but also sobering read. Harry’s sheer frustration at what he sees happening is apparent, as is how little he feels he can do about it – hence the essays. A lot cover the same ground and they follow the same format; snapshots from his childhood followed by a comparison with today’s society.  There are facts and figures woven through which, though few years out of date, are startling and saddening.

There are memories of his life as a young man, newly returned from the war, and as a young husband – a time when he was able to prosper but also lived knowing there was a safety net if things went wrong. It is a safety net he and many others hadn’t experienced as children. It is a safety net that I, as a child of the seventies, grew up expecting to be there for me – though I have been lucky enough to never need it – and my family.

Now, if I’m honest, I don’t think this would be the case. When I see people queuing at food banks on the news or here about the indignities people with disabilities go through to receive support for the necessities for living a decent life, I feel sick…and think it doesn’t take much for any of us to end up there, just one job loss or accident. It’s depressing and frightening – yet it feels like a lot of us have our heads in the sand and think it could never happen to us.

It’s why I decided to write this review after all because it made me think and wonder if I can do anything (I’m not sure what) and also slightly embarrassed I haven’t done much so far but turn out to vote.  Maybe it will do the same for a few others and we can end up with the society Harry dreamt about as a young man.

Emma

(Revisiting) The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell

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Many, many – possibly showing my age hear but – many moons ago, whilst doing an A level in government and politics, my teacher recommended I read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

Despite leaning to left so far at the time I am amazed I didn’t fall over, I had never heard of the book – which promotes socialism over capitalism as the only real option if the working classes are to ever have a decent standard of living and reap the rewards of their labours.

I immediately went out and read it, though it wasn’t the easiest book to get through, and it has stuck with me ever since. I remember it made me angry at times, sad at others, and utterly depressed for most of it. Life for the characters in this book was harsh, bleak, and – often – short. They worked hard (or rather were worked hard) for little pay and, when they didn’t work, there was no safety net to catch them.

Recently, it came up in conversation and I decided maybe the time was right to read it again. I couldn’t remember the plot, I realised, but still had images of the painters and decorators the story centres around in my head and also one scene in particular where someone dies hadn’t ever left me.

As soon as I started reading, the story came back to me pretty much straight away, as did the indignation I felt for and the frustration I felt with the characters. They are treated so badly – yet they don’t stand up and say no. Of course, with no welfare state to protect you and plenty of other men willing to take your job, it’s probably no surprise.

This isn’t a subtle book. It’s one that beats you over the head with it’s message, which it repeats pretty consistently throughout the book to make sure you get it. It paints a picture of a world I wouldn’t want to live in – one that in the grand scheme of things isn’t that long ago. Reading it, part of me thinks how far we’ve come – with employee rights and state benefits – whilst part of me wonders if we’ve come very far at all and if we are maybe just more comfortable in our chains thanks to satellite TV and smart phones.

Reading back over what I’ve written I realise I’ve gotten quite feisty, which is what the book was no doubt written to do – to light a fire and wind me up (in a political way). It is how I felt back as a teenager and how I hope other people will feel reading it.

Despite being over a 100 years old a lot of the messages in it are relevant and just need looking at with a modern eye.  I’m not saying we should all storm the barricades but I am saying, after reading it, in this capitalist world maybe we should think about how we treat each other and those that work for us / wish us.  This one is worth a read if the news of more cuts to welfare make you feel uncomfortable or you are a political bent – though appreciate it’s not for everyone.

Emma

What I'm Reading This Week: 27th April, 2015

Belated happy Monday all.  Hope you had a good weekend – ours was lovely, with lots of sun on Sunday and St. George’s Day celebrations at Kenilworth Castle with medieval knights and battling dragons.  Unfortunately, it’s now back to reality and work and a slightly grey day (still better to be grey while I’m working vs. the other way round).

Blog-wise I managed to get two reviews posted (I’m always so far behind on these I’ve decided to stop beating myself up – I will end up black and blue otherwise). They were:

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cummings – a memoir that I didn’t enjoy as much as I thought I would, possibly because it was an audio book but also possibly because my expectations were too high

Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro – short stories disguised as a novel telling the story of a girl growing into a woman in Ontario in the 1940s – loved it!

Book-wise this week, I am starting with some non-fiction – The People: The Rise & Fall of the Working Class by Selina Todd which I’ve heard great things about.  With the election less than two weeks away and the rhetoric about hard working people that has been thrown about it feels appropriate to be reading it.

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What was it really like to live through the 20th century? In 1910 three-quarters of the population were working class, but their story has been ignored until now. Based on the first-person accounts of servants, factory workers, miners and housewives, award-winning historian Selina Todd reveals an unexpected Britain where cinema audiences shook their fists at footage of Winston Churchill, communities supported strikers, and where pools winners (like Viv Nicholson) refused to become respectable. Charting the rise of the working class, through two world wars to their fall in Thatcher’s Britain and today, Todd tells their story for the first time, in their own words.

I’m (hopefully) going to follow it up with The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter which, again, gets good reviews although I know little about it as it’s a review copy that caught my eye.

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Deep in the woods of northern England, somewhere between a dilapidated estate and an abandoned Victorian asylum, fifteen-year-old Jane Standen lived through a nightmare. She was babysitting a sweet young girl named Lily, and in one fleeting moment, lost her. The little girl was never found, leaving her family and Jane devastated.

Twenty years later, Jane is an archivist at a small London museum that is about to close for lack of funding. As a final research project–an endeavor inspired in part by her painful past–Jane surveys the archives for information related to another missing person: a woman who disappeared more than one hundred years ago in the same woods where Lily was lost. As Jane pieces moments in history together, a portrait of a fascinating group of people starts to unfurl. Inexplicably tied to the mysterious disappearance of long ago, Jane finds tender details of their lives at the country estate and in the asylum that are linked to her own heartbroken world, and their story from all those years ago may now help Jane find a way to move on.

And that’s it for this week – as The People is over 500 pages long I’m not sure I dare consider reading more than two books and that might be pushing it – what about you, what are you reading?

Have a good week!

Emma