Thursday, May 31, 2007
Picked up this book in a random fit of interest in a Birmingham bazaar; since then, this tome occupies pole position in my List of Books I Will Read Again without a bribe. I count many travel books among my inspirations for relentless travel; most of the Tintin books fit snugly in this category. Now, to that bookshelf, we welcome Peter Moore.
He wrote the book/planned the travel post-breakup with a long-term girlfriend; in his own words, he needed to "get away from it all" and rediscover singlehood without the trappings of society breathing down his neck. He, aptly, picked Africa, easily one of the most lawless lands known to Lonely Planet conoisseurs, to drown his sorrows; little did he know that the Sudanese embassy would eat him up all the way.
All throughout, he enters the mythical kingdom of Lesotho, still untouched by tourist litter; he gets a guided tour round a Jo'burg shantytown, easily the place with the highest proportion of shootings per capita; he tries to climb the highest mountain in Africa, to the consternation of everyone around him, not least his guide, who doesn't get his tip; and has a rollickin' fun time all the way.
Sure, I agree with other reviewers that the funny streak vanishes sometimes, but one has to bear in mind good travel writing is far and few between, and the bar has to be lowered accordingly. Bear in mind that most tourist sights have been worked and reworked by countless fledgling journalists trying to ape their way onto the colour pages of each broadsheet's Travel pullout. With focused competition like this, one simply cannot compare.
To his credit, his narrative takes in a LOT of educational soundbites - much is made of the history and culture of the places he travels through, and one gets the feeling this is less a George Bush than a Michael Moore travelogue. Many genuinely funny bits abound, mind you - his attempts to get that elusive Sudanese visa, with long distance phone calls from various (badly telecom-linked, may I add) parts of Africa back to a Sudanese embassy in Malawi that has already given up all hope on him, complete with respective abusive language, are some of the best bits of travel writing I have read all year.
Thumbs up, Peter Moore - you get that 9/10. This is one of the truly inspirational travel books of our time, mateys. (He's Australian, by the way, like nearly all good travellers are.)
at 3:13 PM
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Wondering why I update this site lots now?
It's because I DO read a lot, silly.
At the Yorkshire Dales camp, this book was first to go; it has been taunting me in the flat kitchen for awhile now. Knowing Elton's humour pedigree (Blackadder ring a bell, anyone?), I was eager to pick this tome up. And a rollicking laugh I had, but at the same time, a few hard questions made an indelible mark.
It's a comic romp through London, and a LOT of the UK, describing how a disabled nuclear physicist and an equally disabled university student take on the insidiuous forces that want to lay down a comprehensive UK road network. Elton pits Digby, the Minister of Public Transport, who is secretly getting kickbacks from the Road Lobby (an insidious force throughout the novel), against the two protagonists, and Toff, a rhyme-wielding gangsta rappa turned full-blooded parking attendant.
The jokes get a little crass at times; he, sometimes, is unable to make that seamless transition from one-liner to full-blown 400-page gagfest. Otherwise, through the humour, there is ample fodder to mull over.
He exposes the extent of the road and oil lobby as a deciding factor impeding progress on public transport issues. The plans for a hydrogen car, Geoffrey the disabled nuclear physicist, maintain, cannot be used to aid the private transport industry; he intends to sell them to the public transport industry, but is dealt a fatal blow by Digby's surrogate henchmen before that.
Issues such as disability, the environmental damage of private transport, the influence of lobby groups on political decisions, discrimination and prejudice, are all handled deftly by Elton via humour. The novel ends with a victory for the private transport lobby; but Elton makes it sound so ironic, so unflatteringly blase, that the car lobby seems to have won a Pyrhhic victory.
Twists abound; the car chase at the end is 100 pages of pure laugh-out-loud-on-bus (to disgust of fellow commuters, no doubt.) Elton's gags seem a little contrived at times; he abandons all semblance of realism midway through the book, sending Deborah the wheelchair-bound student dodging lamp-posts and setting off wheelchair-operated explosives, all thanks to her physicist lover. Mental abuse is also inflicted throughout on the antagonists; lovely Digby suffers an inglorious political fall from grace midway after his sexuality dogs him in the midst of a major party policy speech.
Funny, no doubt; but raising issues that you would never imagine were linked.
I give it a 7.5/10.
at 1:09 AM
With a close-to-zero posting record on this site, and the other inveterate readers all committing carbon chains to memory, I am here to fill the void.
Just call me Nicholas.
This book has been on my hitlist for a while now - any book with espionage and Award Winning on its jacket simultaneously sends me into paroxyms of delight. So here goes. I took it to the Yorkshire Dales on a camp, and by Day 2, was beginning to evade the manly wiles of football in a vainglorious effort to finish this book.
Sally Gilmartin, born Eva Delectorskaya, has a tale to tell - and that tale, of dodging Russian double agents, near-assassinations by moles in her own subspecialty of the British Secret Service, is ingeniously interwoven with the comparatively mundane account of her own daughter, slowly, but assiduously, putting the pieces together.
The opening chapters start almost innocuously - a death, a recruitment to the Secret Service; no surprises for what is after all an espionage novel. As the second chapter unfolds, we see Sally's daughter, Ruth, together with son Joachim, slowly at the receiving end of chapters of her mother's secret story. The sharp tones of espionage are lushly interwoven with the excruciating minutiae of Ruth's (in comparison) rather contrived woes with men (Hamid), her thesis, and her reworking of her relationship with her mother
But this novel is well played out. Twists ensue till the very end; no one is who they seem to be. A lot of internalisation occurs; we peer deep, deep into Eva's thought processes, realising how hard it can be to constantly morph identities.
Overall, a good thriller, and more than a good vacuous read on the beach.
I give it 8/10. Would have got more but for the sparing use of linguistic devices in the first few chapters, ensuring a draggy opening.
at 12:29 AM