Granny's Good Reads 

Sonia Lee is one of our most treasured customers and a voracious reader.

March 2019

Gleebooks Bookshop - Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Napoleon: Passion, Death and Resurrection 1815-1840 is Philip Dwyer’s final book in his brilliant study of Napoleon. After Waterloo Napoleon hoped to be given an estate in England but instead he was sent to Saint Helena, a small island in the middle of the Atlantic, used as a staging post by the East India Company. Once heavily forested, it was then almost denuded of trees and Napoleon and his small retinue were housed in a jerry-built and rat- infested dwelling at Longwood in the most exposed part of the island. Hudson Lowe the Governor imposed petty and humiliating restrictions on his prisoner which Napoleon resisted as much as possible. For the first few years he dictated his memoirs, and tried to develop a garden and plant a few trees. After that he filled the time with walks and rides, reading new books and papers when they arrived, and having lengthy baths which annoyed Lowe because water and fuel were scarce resources. When he became gravely ill, Lowe insisted that he was a hypochondriac and expelled the surgeon O’Meara. This was a mistake because once the surgeon got to England he wrote a best-selling account of life on the island with the Governor coming off second best. Only 46 when he came to the island, Napoleon had his life cut sadly short and he died, with Lowe in denial until the last moment. The Resurrection part of the book is about the Bonapartists and their attempts to keep Napoleon’s name alive until his remains were brought to Paris in 1840 and buried with unprecedented scenes of mourning in Les Invalides. I was so impressed by this book that I read the earlier volumes: Napoleon: The Path to Power and Citizen Emperor.  In the process I lost some of my reverence for this charismatic figure. He had a genius for self-promotion and manipulating news in his own favour which makes Trump look positively self-effacing. All three books are scholarly, engagingly written, copiously illustrated and a pleasure to read.  

Now here’s a charmer: The Ravenmaster by ex-soldier Christopher Skaife— the man in charge of the welfare of the famous ravens at the Tower of London. This is no sinecure as the ravens are formidably intelligent, they hate any deviation from their routine and there are problems like foxes and scaffolding and 4 million tourists a year to accommodate. Skaife rises at 5.30 to let the ravens out of their enclosure, to feed them and bid them good morning in what he calls Ravenish. He buys meat at nearby Smithfield Market, cleans and fills their water bowls and as a treat gives them dog biscuits soaked in blood. Legend has it that if the ravens leave the Tower the kingdom will fall so if one escapes Skaife hurries to find it and bring it back. There are seven only, all with names like Hardey, Thor & Odin, one called Jubilee for the Queen. Skaife is devoted to his charges, even when they land him in humiliating positions. He and his wife live in the Tower with arrow slits for windows, walls 400 feet high and they get locked in at night. He has written a delightful account of his life with the ravens and includes photographs so you can see what they all look like. 

A new suspense novel from Dublin author Tana French is always a treat and The Wych Elm shows French at her tantalising best. This isn’t a Dublin Murder Squad mystery like her first six, but there are enough good cop/bad cop cross examinations to satisfy all French groupies. Toby Hennessy, the narrator, is one of those rather insouciant young men who have always been fortunate and perhaps lack empathy as a result. An only child, he had the companionship of cousins Susanna and Leon when they spent their holidays at the Ivy House with kindly Uncle Hugo. He has a good PR job at a minor art gallery but his luck runs out when after a night out with the boys he is burgled and bashed to within an inch of his life. He is left with permanent disabilities and holes in his memory. Uncle Hugo is dying from a brain tumour and cousin Susanna suggests he recuperate at the Ivy House and keep Hugo company in his last few months. Toby’s girl- friend Melissa agrees to go too and for a time all goes swimmingly. Then Susanna’s small son finds a skull in a hole in the old elm in the garden and investigations uncover many inconvenient truths. They all come under pressure from the deceptively easy-going detectives and Toby begins to doubt everything that he remembers from the past. He always thought of himself as lucky—but what is he when his luck runs out? Drugged to the eyeballs on Xanax and alcohol, Toby comes unstuck. French is brilliant at delineating characters under intolerable pressure so don’t expect a happy ending. Sonia

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