What We're Reading 

Hidden gems, hot favourites, slow burners and the odd guest columnist.

April 2016

 - Wednesday, April 06, 2016
John: Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty: Belfast 1985, double time, overtime and danger money for police riot duty. Whiskey, cocaine and black forest gateau breakfast. A proposition from MI5.
Vignettes from a day in the life of DI Sean Duffy from the very mean streets of Belfast,  The Troubles, made worse by the Anglo Irish Agreement, are shaking the city and Duffy is investigating a double murder and the suicide (or maybe murder) of two more, a missing ‘weapons system’ investigation, throw in a handful of suspects with a variety of possible motives, an eclectic soundtrack, add some American spooks, add Special Branch coppers for good measure. Shake, serve cold over ice with a slice of lime.

Andrew: ‘And yet for all his closeness, he seems more and more to belong to a world that is utterly beyond me and beyond my human imagining.’ I was a little late to the party but I have just finished reading (and enjoying) H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. By a lovely coincidence I’ve been reading it in tandem with David Malouf’s superlative 1978 classic novella An Imaginary Life—and it wasn’t long before I began to appreciate a lovely accidental synergy. Macdonald’s book is ostensibly a memoir of falconry; Malouf’s an imagined relationship between Ovid and a wildling boy he encounters, and attempts to teach. I admit to  a couple of small problems with the Macdonald book; she spends a good deal of time discussing T. H. White (author of Sword in the Stone and, by accounts, a bit of an all-round sadistic nut-case) and his hawk, Gos. Frankly, I quickly began to lose patience with White. The great joy of the book, however, is easily sustained by Macdonald’s  richly described rearing and training of a young goshawk of her own, called Mabel. The intense, spiky, and unpredictable relationship between the woman and a wildly savage yet curiously vulnerable bird, draws out a wonderful reverie on the author’s own raw and exposed humanity (she is mourning the recent and sudden death of her father). Something similar is explored by Malouf; both books are exquisite treatises on creativity and what makes us civilised; indeed what makes us human.

Viki: After reading Gail Jones’ A Guide to Berlin with its fantastic sequence of ‘speak, memories’ delivered by her cast of Nabokov fans, I had to go to the source—Vladimir Nabokov’s memoir Speak, Memory. Nabokov is the definition of ‘polymath’—his command of language leaves me feeling like I should start reading the dictionary, my vocabulary is so limited. But he wears his erudition with charm and wit—a breezy & wry (rather than the almost stifling circular self obsession of Marcel Proust) use of associative memory leads Nabokov through an idyllic childhood full of butterflies and quirky tutors, World War 1, dispossession by the Bolsheviks, Nazi Germany, and more butterflies in America. It’s an incredible tale, and a real pleasure to read.