January 9th, 2014

Dead Dog Cat


Next book I've finished deals with the opening few minutes of Saving Private Ryan. It's Osprey Raid #1: Rangers Lead the Way: Pointe-du-Hoc D-Day 1944, the US Army Ranger attack on the gun emplacements that overlooked the Normandy beachhead. As it turns out, the guns weren't finished yet, but the intelligence wonks didn't know that, and so the position was attacked on D-Day to knock it out. Pretty solid read.


That is Walter Russell Mead's description of Jesus, and the passages in Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard's Killing Jesus, Book Review No. 1 for 2014, in which Jesus tangles with the Pharisees and Sadducees certainly suggest a witty young man with a penchant for asking difficult questions that didn't sit well with the authorities.  In those days, being born in modest circumstances in the wrong neighborhood hampered one's chances to rise in society, and the Establishment of the day had more painful and permanent ways of dealing with troublemakers.

That noted, I question some of the editorial choices the authors make in constructing their story from sources other than the New Testament.  There are, apparently, Roman records of the trial and execution of criminals in Jerusalem, althought a skeptical reader might want to investigate further, to determine whether there were not additional prophets and itinerant holy men, out of which a composite John the Baptist and a composite Jesus later emerged.  The Star of Bethlehem itself might be a composite. Killing Jesus places the Star as a comet visible to Chinese astronomers in what we currently reckon as March, 5 B.C.  Another Via Media post offers no definitive conclusion, referring readers to a list of hypotheses, including Halley's Comet in 12 B.C. and a conjunction of Venus with Jupiter in the summer of 2 B.C.  Because of the rotation of the earth, astrologers in Asia Minor, no matter what they were seeing, would follow its motion to the west, until they ran out of land.  But Cyrenius did not become governor of Syria until after King Herod had died.  Here I wish for better documentation of the civil records, as the authors treat Herod's killing of the male babies of Bethlehem as fact.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)


Book #1 (2014): Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Number of pages: 507

This book tells of Jane Eyre's life starting with her childhood; the first chapter is quite brutal, as Jane gets caught reading a book by her brother, who reacts by throwing the book at her; however, Jane's reaction (which is to attack him) lands her in trouble, and she ends up locked up in the house before being sent to a strict boarding school.

The book then tells of her fortunes as she grows up and starts teaching at the school, before becoming employed by Edward Rochester as a governess and the most significant and memorable parts of the book revolve around the relationship between Rochester and Jane. During her stay at Rochester's house, however, Jane starts to become aware of strange noises in the night, but is unable to find out what is causing them.

A lot of people are probably familiar with the book's plot twists, but the rest has been put behind a spoiler cut just in case.

[Spoiler (click to open)]

After Jane becomes frustrated that Rochester wants to marry another woman, she is surprised when he proposes to her instead; things seem to be better, but the wedding is interrupted by a man who tells them that Rochester is already married. This leads to the revelation of Rochester's mad wife, who has been locked up in the house while Jane was living there (and was the cause of the mysterious noises). Jane soon leaves Rochester's house and ends up destitute; the chapters where she is shown wandering about with no place to call home are absolutely heartbreaking.

She eventually comes into some fortune, partially because of a large inheritance she receives, and it seems like Rochester is forgotten about, but he isn't. After refusing a marriage proposal from St John, the man who took her in to his house, she "hears" Rochester calling to her, and returns to him, to find that he has been blinded in a fire that reduced his house to a ruin, during which Mrs Rochester committed suicide. Although he doesn't think he is any good for her, Jane shows that she still loves Rochester and wants to be with him, which makes for a very touching ending.

The whole book is narrated by Jane, who frequently addresses the reader, and I found it a very enjoyable book to read. It did not feel overlong, and proved to be an enjoyable story telling of its heroine's fortunes. This is a book I had read before, but on re-reading, I found I got a lot more out of it.

Next book: Night Watch (Terry Pratchett)

Book 5: Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

Book 5: Sweet Tooth.
Author: Ian McEwan, 2012.
Genre: Period Fiction. 1970s Britain. Spy Fiction. Literary.
Other Details: Hardback. 320 pages.

Serena Frome, the beautiful daughter of an Anglican bishop, has a brief affair with an older man during her final year at Cambridge, and finds herself being groomed for the intelligence services. The year is 1972. Britain, confronting economic disaster, is being torn apart by industrial unrest and terrorism and faces its fifth state of emergency. The Cold War has entered a moribund phase, but the fight goes on, especially in the cultural sphere. Serena, a compulsive reader of novels, is sent on a ‘secret mission’ which brings her into the literary world of Tom Haley, a promising young writer. First she loves his stories, then she begins to love the man. Can she maintain the fiction of her undercover life? And who is inventing whom? To answer these questions, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage – trust no one. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

The first paragraph of this novel reveals that Serena's career with MI5 was a short one and ended in disgrace. Still knowing this did not spoil my pleasure of taking that journey with her and learning how these events came about.

The novel is clearly an homage to John le Carre, a writer who McEwan holds in high regard. It is the kind of spy novel that is peopled by the same kind of bureaucratic understated grey men of le Carre's novels, who seem a lot less dangerous than they actually can be. Ian Fleming's work for the intelligence service and his famous creation, James Bond, also gets a mention. The bibliography included at the back indicates some of the sources McEwan used to research the intelligence services of the 1970s and the cultural Cold War that generated projects much like Sweet Tooth of the title.

As with all of McEwan's novels I found this beautifully written, full of rich descriptions. The period detail was excellent and again served as a testimony to McEwan's skill as a writer. The narrative also includes a number of short stories written by Tom Haley, the budding writer cultivated by Serena. I won't say too much about the plot but there are some surprises to be had, which will either delight or annoy depending on your temperament. I was delighted and agree with the reviewer who described it as a "beautiful Russian doll of a novel".