England



Photo
of Dorset by Tom Heller used under a Creative Commons license.

Geoffrey Household, Rogue Male (NYRB, 2007).
A thriller, originally published in 1939.  The unnamed protagonist stalks a European dictator (plainly Hitler, I should say) as if to shoot him, but is caught before he can pull the trigger.  He manages to escape, and makes his way back to England, but then realizes that the hunter has become the hunted now, and eventually is driven underground (in the rural Dorset downs) in the most literal way.  To relate more of the plot would be to say too much.  While Household doesn’t say specifically where his protagonist hides, I read somewhere (can’t recall where now) that someone has located the precise hillside in Dorset.

In addition to providing this bio of Household, Wikipedia lists several adaptations for the radio and screen. Here is Household’s obituary (New York Times). Google Books lets you take a look. Orin Judd calls it somewhat dated but curiously timeless. Bill Pronzini says it’s a nightmarish novel, filled with breathless chases, fascinating detail-work, and images that will haunt you. According to Bookride, it inspired Rambo. Seana (who picks books the way I do) says it’s a classic cat-and-mouse tale, a vivid and gripping read. Shane Richmond (26 Books) calls it a thoroughly satisfying read with amusing observations about the English class system. Nancy O says Household sets the tension level high to start, and then ratchets it up. Charles Taylor (The Boston Phoenix) says Household and his protagonist display a sensitivity to the English countryside, a sense that it will provide shelter and food and also spiritual ease. Curious Presbyterian calls it the best “man on the run” thriller ever written. David (Permission to Kill) would put it alongside any modern thriller for pure and simple brutal thrills (I believe that’s meant as praise). Sarah Weinman says the philosophical meditations are subtle but forceful. The Spy Project has spoilers and analysis that might be best read after the novel. Nick Jones says the hero is most compelling when he’s in his burrow. J.D. Tuccile sees lessons about the dangers of government powers. Mitch Edgeworth saw a good bit of dry wit sprinkled throughout, but not the tension that other reviewers see. Simon Lewis, who calls it brilliant, intense and a bit weird, says the protagonist hides in a wood near Lyme Regis. A Usenet poster, johngoldfine, is more precise: he says the hero hides in the country between Lyme Regis, Beaminster and Dorchester.

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Photo of the Tate Gallery by Rob Brink used under a Creative Commons license.

John Lanchester, Mr. Phillips (Penguin, 2001).
After a respectably long and undistinguished career in accountancy, Mr. Phillips is told that he has been made redundant; his services are no longer needed.  Unable to quite come to grips with what has happened to him, he leaves his home as if on his way to the office but instead spends the day meandering through London, from Battersea Park to Trafalgar Square and on.  Early in that Monday, neither Mr. Phillips nor Mr. Phillips were working for me, either, but things turned around through the afternoon and the evening brought some measure of redemption.

Here is Wikipedia’s page on Lanchester. Here is Chapter One. Merrick posted a favorite excerpt. Gabrielle Annan (NYRB) says Mr. Phillips drifts through a London so vividly and wittily evoked that it would make an engaging guide book to the places on his route. Tom Shone (Salon) says it is virtually plotless. Roz Shea calls it often funny and sometimes touching. Alex Good says it evokes cultural malaise. Jennifer Schuessler (The New York Times) calls it witty but disappointing. Nicholas Lezard (The Guardian) did not find it as hilarious as other critics. To rjk, it describes a progress through London that arguably resembles Mrs Dalloway’s. Shannon was enthralled. Philip Hensher (The Guardian) calls it always engaging and interesting. More Coffee Please doesn’t hate meetings. Daisy thought it was quite cool. Christina Patterson interviewed Lanchester for The Independent. Lanchester wrote in the Guardian about his inspiration for the book.

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Photo of Heathrow by Sheree Zielke used under a Creative Commons license.

Alain de Botton, A Week at the Airport (Vintage, 2010).
The owners of the new Terminal 5  at Heathrow invited de Botton to spend a week at the airport as Writer-In-Residence. The result was this delightful little book — more of an essay, really, with lovely pictures by Richard Baker.  An ideal time to start reading it is about two hours before landing on a flight into Heathrow, or you wait another hour you might be able to finish it while standing in the passport control line, like I did.

The author’s site offers three excerpts. Here is his CV. Here’s his Wikipedia entry. Dan Milmo (The Guardian) reported on de Botton’s assignment. Check it out on Google Books, or here’s an excerpt in The Sunday Times. Boyd Tonkin (The Independent) says banality and sublimity circle in a perpetual holding pattern. Dan Hill enjoyed it hugely in a holding pattern above Sydney. Kerri Shadid says it has a magical touch of questioning human behavior and a poetic use of words. Donna Marchetti calls it a clever, quirky book. Geoff Nicholson says a few hours with de Botton is time well spent. Dwight Garner says it’s as intense as a volume of poems. Kirk LaPointe says it teems with beauty. Rob Verger (Boston Globe) says it isn’t always gripping. Karen calls it delightful, reflective and thought-provoking. Helen Gallagher says it explores the airport as a “non-place.” Jessica Holland (The Guardian) says it’s as perky as a stewardess. Frank Bures interviewed de Botton. Daniel Trilling interviewed him for the New Statesman. Watch this clip of him talking to The Daily Mail. Listen to him on NPR’s On Point. If Caleb Crain reviewed it, I haven’t seen any sign of the review.

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White cliffs of Dover
Photo of Dover by diamond geezer used under a Creative Commons license.

William Shakespeare, King Lear (Washington Square Press, 2005).
Perhaps Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, set in the royal court of a pre-Christian Britain. King Lear decides to divide his lands between his daughters, Goneril and Regan, and to disown his youngest daughter, Cordelia, who fails to flatter him as her sisters do. Lear then struggles with age, powerlessness, and madness, while Britain suffers as his daughters intrigue. Cordelia, who has married the King of France, returns with a army at Dover, where she finds Lear and the play finds its denouement.  While King Lear is hardly a guide to Dover, all of the major characters save the Fool are drawn to it, and the place has a special significance within the play.  (On this point, I am indebted to Susan Snyder, whose essay follows the play in the Folger edition noted above.)  Dover functions as a frontier, the edge of Britain, and the place where Lear and Gloucester go to transcend their experiences.

There are so many sources on Lear that a few posted here will only scratch the surface. Wikipedia’s entry on King Lear is lengthy and worthwhile. Google Books gives you a preview or MIT gives you the whole thing. You can listen to the play here. Is this Lear’s domain? Ed Friedlander wrote this essay on enjoying the play.  Here is more on the Dover connection. Songline visited Shakespeare Cliff. Plinius looked for it in the play. Here are Shakespeare playing cards. Here is Laurence Olivier playing Lear, Act IV, Scene 6, on the heath near Dover.

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aground
Photo by Mike138 used under a Creative Commons license.

Bella Bathurst, The Wreckers (Houghton Mifflin, 2005).
For centuries, inhabitants of Britain’s coasts have supplemented their livelihoods with the goods and material from shipwrecks. The march of technology — lighthouses, steel hulls, GPS — has made the seas safer, but far from safe, and wrecks still come ashore, though fewer coastal communities can rely on a steady flow of them. Bathurst’s book travels around England to the most dangerous locales for shipping: the Goodwin Sands, off Kent; Pentland Firth, off northeast Scotland; the Scilly Isles; the West Coast; the Thames, where man was a bigger threat than nature; Cornwall; and the East Coast. Bathurst also wrote a terrific book about Scottish lighthouses.

Google BookSearch gives you a preview, and the author offers this from the introduction. Pedro Caleja has an excerpt too. Kathryn Hughes (The Guardian) says it is, appropriately, a kind of shimmering net of possibility rather than a definitive documentary account. Michele Hewitson (New Zealand Herald) calls it a treasure. Bill Saunders (The Independent) says Bathurst has opened a magic casement on to a lost world on the edge of living memory. Michael Upchurch (Seattle Times) says it’s irresistable. Andro Linklater (The Spectator) cannot recommend it too highly. Philip Marsden (The Times) says is it more than a collection of fine yarns and colourful facts. John Schauble (The Age) calls Bathurst a competent journeyman storyteller. Sara Wheeler (The New York Times) says Bathurst an accomplished stylist. Puke Ariki’s reviewer says the book pares the romance from the business of ship-wrecking to reveal an ugly world of avarice and brutality. Piers Brendon (The Telegraph) says one doesn’t know how much of it to believe. Tim James says it is among the finest writing on Cornwall.  Jay Taber was enthralled by the detailed descriptions of the geologic and maritime factors that contributed to the colossal tonnage of flotsam and jetsam on the shores of Scotland, England, Cornwall, and Wales, not to mention the Orkneys and Hebrides. Peter Ross interviewed Bathurst for the Sunday Herald. You can listen to this interview with her on NPR.

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Central 6 coventry
Photo by davespilbrow used under a Creative Commons license.

George Eliot, Middlemarch (Everyman’s Library, 1991).
Sub-titled “A Study in Provincial Life,” the novel is set in a fictional provincial town based on Coventry, where Eliot lived when she was young.  This grand tale of life in the provinces is set in the late 1820s, though she wrote it fifty years later.  At the center of a large cast of characters are Dorothea Brooke, a idealistic and strong-minded young woman with designs to do good work, and Tertius Lydgate, a naive and ambitious young doctor.  Both enter into ill-advised marriages, frustrating their hopes, and both chafe under the constraints of Middlemarch society, which is not an abstract thing but a cast of well-drawn characters with their own stories.  (This is not a short novel.)     

Wikipedia’s entry about the novel is quite detailed, and its entry on Eliot is also worthwhile.  Here is another Eliot bio.  Google Book Search lets you read some of it.  LibriVox has links to text and acoustic recordings of the novel.  AS Byatt calls it arguably the greatest English novel.  The Complete Review calls it a muddled but grand panoramic novel.  Kevin Hartnett calls it a monument to the fraught lives of women and men.  Edward Tanguay says it teaches you how to see detail again.  Gareth Jenkins (Socialist Review) lauds the novel’s enduring conviction that struggle is needed to bring about a new world.  Trish liked Eliot’s flawed characters.  Magistra muses about male reputation.  Sheila O’Malley says it’s about an entire society and a culture.  Lyza Danger Gardner sees a world in the book.  Linera Lucas has become atuned to Eliot’s fine, wry sense of proportion.  Marta was left wistful and melancholy.  Jandy thinks it needs an editor.  Arukiyomi agrees that it’s too long.  Jessica promises it is worth the work.  Ubaid Dogar finds it odd.  It fell flat for Julie.  Susan loved it.  It’s one of the best books Mrs Walker has read.  Writing about Eliot for The Atlantic in 1873 (via Powell’s), Arthur George Sedgwick was more tempted to admire silently than to criticise at all.  Another 1873 reviewer (Galaxy) called it a treasure-house of details, but an indifferent whole.  An 1871 reviewer (The Guardian) called it an intellectual gift.  Pamela Moore takes a medical perspective.  Artes Perditae collects many wonderful lines. Here is an on-line guide at the University of Virginia meant as an introduction to Middlemarch commentary and criticism.  Ken Thompson writes about Middlemarch‘s marriages.  And Azra Raza has Eliot’s darker side.

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Punts in Cambridge
Photo by Jan-Willem Swane used under a Creative Commons license.

Kate Atkinson, Case Histories (Little, Brown, 2004).
Jackson Brodie is a private investigator in Cambridge, a divorced father of one, a veteran and an ex-cop, and not a glamorous fellow.  The novel — a sort of a hybrid of the crime genre and a more literary endeavour — follows Brodie through the wending courses of several different engagements — a lost child, an allegedly unfaithful spouse, a missing sister.  The lure here is Atkinson’s storytelling, and particularly her ability to draw a variety of compelling characters.  
Some coincidences knit the plot together, but they are readily overlooked.

Google Book Search lets you preview it. Carrie O’Grady (The Guardian) says Atkinson is very good indeed. Katie Owen (The Telegraph) likes Atkinson’s wicked sense of humour and her delight in eccentricity.  Roberta Silman (The Boston Globe) calls it an interesting hybrid of a novel.  Timothy Peters (San Francisco Chronicle) says it transcends the limitations of the genre.  Jacqueline Carey (The New York Times) calls it exuberant and empathetic. Misha Berson (Seattle Times) says it has real gravitas. Sharon Dilworth (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) calls it a brilliant if circuitously plotted novel.  Michael Allen found it hard going.  The Complete Review says it’s very well-written and consistently entertaining.  Boris Kachka (New York) says in the end this is a clever detective novel, no less but no more. Jeff Turrentine (The Washington Post) calls it a rousing triumph if you ignore mystery conventions.  Sam calls it darkly comic and well characterised. Dest reeled from one of the most powerful stories he or she read in a while. Michelle loved the bits of humour and irony. Rosario thinks the best thing about it was the small, understated connections. MsTweet didn’t see the connections. Jessica became a hopeless fan with the fourth chapter. Luanne liked the deliciously intricate, detailed plot. Margaret calls Atkinson a master at creating separate stories, then slowly intertwining them. Natasha Tripney thinks some of the resolutions are a little too neat. Bookdwarf says you can’t put it down. Jenny hugely enjoyed it. Paul thinks it’s pretty good. Devourer of Books did eventually enjoy it. It didn’t work for showhost. Atkinson’s writing drove raych round the bend. Denise Pickles calls it a thumping good tale. Sam Smith calls it nearly perfect. Jo wants to know more about Jackson Brodie. The Litblog Co-op picked it for its 2005 Read This! — read this and subsequent posts. Helen Brown interviewed Atkinson for The Telegraph upon the release of Case Histories.  Georgie Lewis interviewed Atkinson for Powells.com following the publication of a subsequent book.  You can listen to a discussion about it on The Diane Rehm Show on WAMU.

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