“A Traitor’s Kiss” by Fintan O’Toole [New Year’s Resolution]
I started off enjoying this very much. It’s a biography of Richard Brinsley Sheridan. But then at 22 Sheridan wrote his first play and Fintan, our national cultural commentator, begins analysing the plays and it is tedious. Alas. However, despite what you might have thought (well certainly despite what I thought), Sheridan was quite the politico. I hadn’t realised that he had played such a pivotal role in the Warren Hastings trial or that he was quite so pally with the Prince Regent. Or indeed, that he died in debt with the bailiffs at the door. All very dramatic.
Due to my relentless reading and re-reading of Georgette Heyer, I have developed quite an interest in English history from about 1780-1820 and I have read a certain amount of non-fiction about this era as well. But it’s so complex: the French revolution, Napoleon, the loss of the American colonies, the 1798 rebellion (big in Ireland though less so in England), the dissolution of the Irish parliament and the Act of Union (ditto), not to mention the madness of George III, Fox and Pitt [did you know that Fox was a first cousin of Edward Fitzgerald?] and politics with the beginning of parties. This book doesn’t make it easy to follow even for the interested and somewhat informed reader.
This is quite an old book and I think that the author’s style has improved over the years. I still find him pretty hard going in the newspaper but I read his book “Ship of Fools” a while ago and I found it quite understandable. Some of the sentences in this are so involved that it is difficult to have any idea what the author is on about. His use of pronouns is, frankly, suboptimal.
I was slightly surprised to see the extensive references to Lord Edward Fitzgerald. Sheridan’s wife, Elizabeth Linley, famous in her own right had an affair with Lord Edward. Though I had read a biography of him relatively recently, I had no memory of this. However, on looking again at the Lord Edward biography, I saw that it got quite a bit of air time [I think my memory has finally given up]. It was interesting to contrast the attention given to Elizabeth by both authors. Fintan O’Toole gives very little information about Elizabeth and her life before she meets Sheridan but Stella Tillyard, the author of the Lord Edward book gives lots of background. It struck me that Fintan might usefully have filled in readers a bit more about Elizabeth.
However, I must say that I was in the Smock Alley Theatre recently (just restored and re-opened) and was charmed to see copies of old playbills on the wall featuring Thomas Sheridan (father of our hero and manager of the theatre in the 18th century) about whom I would have known almost nothing if I hadn’t read this.
“Long Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela [New Year’s Resolution]
Interesting enough but a bit one thing happened after another in style. I suppose if you’re reading this, you’re not really here for the quality of the writing.
His first three children get pretty short shrift. His little girl who died at 9 months gets three quarters of a page. The birth of his second son is given a couple of short lines. His first son gets a little bit more of the action. Even by the standards of the 1940s/50s, he doesn’t strike me as a very hands on father. He admits as much. Winnie, his much more famous and clearly more loved, second wife gets a lot more air time but still plays second fiddle to his work in politics.
And there is lots about his work in politics. It’s a long, long book. By page 350 you’re still dealing with internal wrangling in ANC committees and it does strike one that organisational politics are the same everywhere and you need to be a very gifted author with very strong material to make committee wrangling interesting.
That said by about page 500, I was quite enjoying myself. I knew he was in Robben Island for the long haul and the cast of characters for obvious reasons becomes narrower. Also, he does have a quite extraordinary story to tell and when you strip out the ANC/PAC rivalry and have more about him, it becomes a lot more interesting and more human.
When I finally finished it, I did feel a little sad because by the end, I was quite enjoying the company of this rather lovely man.
“The Dinner” by Herman Koch
The narrator of this book is profoundly disturbed and disturbing. I couldn’t really get past that. I didn’t find it particularly engrossing or page turnerish (which I had been promised). It’s the story of two couples who go out to dinner. The men are brothers and their sons (first cousins) have committed a very nasty crime and have not been caught. One of the brothers is a successful politician. All the ingredients are there for a very clever book but for my money, it didn’t deliver at all.
“The Long Song” by Andrea Levy
Someone at work foisted this on me when I mentioned that I had enjoyed “Small Island”. It’s fine and an easy read. But I wasn’t crazy about it. I think it’s a bit overwritten and though lots and lots happens the story is a bit slow to get going. The author has done a lot of research and she is determined to use it all. A mistake, I feel.