30 May, 2008


Warwick Collins

This also came from the Librarything Early Reviewer programme; it was my allocation in the February batch of books ~ apparently the publisher had some difficulties delivering; it has not taken me three months to read it! It is quite a sweet book, taking after the main character, who seems to be a very sweet man.

Ez, for Ezekiel, is an immigrant from Jamaica, living in London with his wife and son; we follow him as he makes his way to his new place of employment, a public convenience near an Underground station; there, he meets the two other major characters, his fellow employees, who have already had experience in the business of keeping the place clean and acceptable. As it turns out, under the Council's direction, a large part of that “acceptable” means keeping the cubicles free from homosexual encounters, which appear to be the norm between random strangers in the book's London. The problem for Ez and his colleagues arises when, on the orders of the Council's representative, they start to clamp down on the homosexuals, whom they call “reptiles”, the income from the place goes down quite substantially, to the point, in fact, that the place is going to be closed down completely. In between all this and the working out of a final solution to the problem, we read of Ez's home life, and his relationships with his two co-workers, none of which is perfectly smooth, but each of which Ez is willing to work at, to differing degrees.

All in all, this is a nice portrait of a man who is willing to go through life as it comes to him, not pushing it, accepting what it gives, and making lemonade from the lemons that sometimes come his way. One leaves the book liking Ez and his wife, hoping that things work out for them, and their son, and the new business of the Gents.

17 May, 2008

Baroness Cox

Baroness Cox; A Voice for the Voiceless
Andrew Boyd

A birthday present, this biography, because we enjoyed Baroness Cox’s speaking so much when she visited St. Mike’s last year. This is not a conventional biography (as, perhaps, Cox is not a conventional baroness), but more a look at three of the conflicts of the the world today and the work that Cox has done in alleviating some of the suffering they have caused. Nagorno-Karabakh is an Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan; the Karen are a people in the eastern part of Burma; Sudan is split into several warring factions, one of which is the official government. In each of these places atrocities have been performed, by both sides; in each place, the people charged with keeping the peace, having the responsibility to all the peoples of the country, the government, have failed in that task, and have persecuted a minority; in each of these places Baroness Cox and the British branch of Christian Solidarity International, now Christian Solidarity Worldwide, after a split of the charity, have gone in to relieve some of the suffering of the persecuted people. Obviously, her care for the persecuted has lead to a great deal of criticism, not least by the persecutors, and the book reflects some of that, usually defending her from it, or pointing out the illogicality of it, or refuting it altogether; Boyd is certainly not an unbiased biographer.

Nevertheless, it is a well-written biography, annotated properly (though i hate end of chapter notes), with plenty of valid source material, which is essential for a programmatic study of a controversial person. The most interesting part of the book (the rest are horrific, not interesting) is the first, which is as near as the book gets to conventional biography, and which outlines the first portions of Cox’s life until she was made a baroness by Margaret Thatcher. I was astonished to read of the vitriol that existed in British society in the Sixties and, especially, the Seventies, aimed towards anyone who was perceived by the self-proclaimed revolutionaries as being a part of the old way; the portrayal of the students and Marxist teachers at the North London Polytech is of a part with the portrayal of the oppressors in the rest of the book, and clearly shows how self-important and -aggrandising groups can quickly lose their focus and turn from correcting wrongs (always their proclaimed goal) to perpetrating them.

11 May, 2008

The Janus Effect

The Janus Effect
Alan Cash

It has been less than two years since i read this book previously; let's review, why did i read it again so soon? It could have been one of a few reasons: It had a huge effect on me the first time i read it (The Shack); i didn't get all i could from it last time (The Bible); i loved the writing style and wanted to revisit it just for that pleasure (John Galsworthy); it was a really easy read and i'm a lazy reader (Agatha Christie). Any of these is an acceptable (to me) reason for rereading; the problem is that my reason doesn't really fall into any of these groups. The closest, i suppose, is the Bible group, that there was more to get from it than i did last time; but i would put it a bit more bluntly: I didn't really understand everything in the book last time, because it seemed a bit incoherent and needlessly puzzling.

All right, then, having read it again, what do i think? Well, i still have some of the same feelings of vague dissatisfaction that i had previously. I have learned since reading it before that Dinas, the imprint under which it is published by Y Lolfa, is their self-publishing unit, though not quite (as i understand the term) a vanity house; the book does show evidence of slightly poor copy-editing ~ at one point one character's name is clearly accidentally substituted for another, a sigh elsewhere is spelled with a zero instead of a capital 'o' ('0hhh' instead of 'Ohhh') which looks odd on the page ~ though certainly not enough to affect enjoyment of the book. The biggest drawback, i fear, to this style of publishing is that the publishers are less involved and it is a less urgent task for them to polish the story and make it as clear and saleable as they can. In this case, that means that the plot is a bit more convoluted than it ought to be, with a couple of the characters really being superfluous to requirement (Elnac and Bartok seem to be little more than deus ex machina characters, introduced early as simple, but not consistent in that characteristic depending on the need Cash has for them), and some of the conflicts between characters not fully developed (Camille and Veema, for example) or explained. In addition, the ending seems to be more of an ending than a resolution; perhaps reflecting a belief of Cash that life doesn't resolve, even with time travel.

Overall, how do i feel having given the time to the book again? Well, not badly ~ it wasn't wasted time ~ but not altogether happy, either: I would be happier with a bit more understanding of Cash's purposes, which seem hidden in the convolutions of plot, or with a bit more polish and professionalism on the dystopic themes. The ultimate test, as far as i'm concerned, however, is whether or not i would read another book by the same author, if i knew nothing about it other than the author. Here, i have to admit, The Janus Effect passes the test; if Cash writes again, if Y Lolfa publish, i will certainly read.

04 May, 2008

Darwin's Angel

Darwin's Angel: An Angelic Riposte to The God Delusion
John Cornwell

Another of the many responses to Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion. This one has the conceit that it is written by a guardian angel, specifically that of Charles Darwin and Dawkins himself. Cornwell has not written at all angrily but, as one would expect from an angel, rather he writes with affection and concern for Dawkins and his complete misunderstanding of the situation. In this, it is much like most of the other reviews of Dawkins i have read, which have approached the issue as one of logic and thought rather than emotion, which it seems to me it is, at heart, for Dawkins himself. He is, for whatever reason, so repelled by religion, the revulsion is so deep, that an unthinking emotion is at the root, as it is at the root of so many of our most deeply held positions, and all his logic and thought has been bent to the task of justifying that emotional response. If this is the case, i wonder if it isn’t so much wasted energy to write books such as this ~ at least if one truly writes with the hope of engaging Dawkins in dialogue, which Cornwell probably doesn’t ~ because the past has clearly shown that Dawkins doesn’t participate in dialogue in his books (no matter what he may do in personal sessions), perhaps because he doesn’t wish his audience to become confused, perhaps because it is easier to set up straw men and beat them down to great applause than to actually engage in legitimate argument. Be that as it may, this little book is quick, easy, and clear though ultimately, i fear, unsuccessful.