A Bookish Thread

I know Pete did a blog on this last year and I hope he will not be insulted if I do one now. In view of the dreadfully wet summer: how about a thread on good books to read since there is no point going outside? I am mainly into older books and have recently read two short classics which were very both good as stories (they are also great literature but I do not feel well qualified to comment on that): Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (I happened to have read it shortly before he died) and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The one I have read most recently, however, is a modern one: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. This is a dreadful, awful, terrifying, captivating, brilliant book which I began reading in an airport departure lounge and did not put down until I had finished it at home at 10pm. I hardy spoke to Elenwe and the children till I had finished it. It is about a man and his son walking across a sort of post apocalyptic America. I do not know if it was even more arresting for me as the father of two small boys but it was breath taking. Anyhow any other good (or bad) books anyone wants to talk about?

This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.

  • Pete Baker

    “I know Pete did a blog on this last year..”

    I did?!?

    As it happens I can only point to the most recent addition to my “to-read” pile.

    Lives and Legacies – Isaac Newton

    Another book on one of Those [Royal Society] Guys.

  • Dewi

    I agree with you about Cormac Mcarthy Turgon – he messes you up when you read him. Why not just avoid? Horrible horrible bloke.

    Best detectives:
    Any Tony Hillerman – wonderful native American detective.
    Old but brill – Martin Cruz Smith – Arkady Renko still keeping the faith – Gorky Park fantastic and the sequels brilliant.
    Michael Connelly fab – a great sort of strained ethical feeling.

    Fact – Paul Bew’s latest (away and don’t know the name) v good.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    If you’re going to read a book, you should start at home and re-live the history of Ulster throughout the centuries with any of Ian Adamson’s books.


  • Pancho’s Horse

    Why not go the whole hog and read a history of Ireland – a factual one? Or Palestinian Walks by Raja Shehadeh?

  • Garibaldy

    Dwei, Bew’s book is The Politics of Emnity. Has anyone else been reading Frank Miller after watching Batman?

  • Greagoir O’ Frainclin

    UMH…very good suggestion!

    For I love reading about my Ulster history too!
    Ian Adamson’s interpretation can be quite entertaining!

  • Rory

    Cormac McCarthy is a great singular voice in English literature. I have long argued that All the Pretty Horses, the first novel in what became to be known as the Border Trilogy and which included The Crossing and Cities of the Plains, was the best piece of US literature in the 20th century – barring only The Great Gatsby which is beyond competition.

    Having said all that I am aware that I might well appear to have been totally oblivious of great US Jewish writers – Bellow and Roth or the Ulster Protestant/German, Steinbeck or the sublime Afro-American (or “Negro” as he would quite proudly have had it), Baldwin. I am not. It is simply that McCarthy (and Fitzgerald before him) somehow seem to strike a chord previously unheard yet one that we cannot but know is true.

    Solzhenitsyn I have only read in translation. I was fond of priggishly and pretentiously quoting Solzhenitsyn’s own pretentions observations on Dante when, in my teens, I read The First Circle ( in my defence might I add that I still blush at the recall). Cancer Ward intrigued and informed me (rightly or wrongly I have no idea) and I was able to make real and romantic connections with my own time as a TB patient in an Ulster hospital gulag in the 50’s. He is not an important writer and will be remembered mostly as an unwitting propagandist.

    Conrad told a good yarn well for the time that he was in.

  • Kate

    Moria Monk, a nun who went through many terrible experinces, is a good book.

  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    The Granta Book of the America Short Story Vol1 will stop your heart. It features a great story per year from 1945 through to 1990 or so including The Lottery, a story so good it gets referenced in the Simpsons. The introduction, by editor Richard Ford is a superb overview of the state of the short story and post-war American literary trends. It acknowledges that Ireland is the home of the best short story writers.

    In a similar but less exhalted vein True Tales of American Life is a collection of short stories by listeners to America’s version of Radio 4. The presenter asked Americans to write a short story with two provisos: it must be short and it must be true.

    Some stories are less than a page. Most are about three pages long. they are grouped into the big themes: love, death, war, chance and so on. It is page after page of joy and pain. You will be delighted if you buy either of these books and you’ll probably buy them as presents for people.

    Or anything by Andy McNab :o(

  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    Ian Adamson’s History of Northern Ireland’s Jammy Gits is class. Nice shot of his wife on the cover!

  • It was Sammy McNally what done it

    Having recently finished the Sopranos series on DVD which is absolutely brilliant and spiffing etc I turned my attention to British ‘mob’ books. A female friend of mine recommended Martina Cole and I have just read both ‘The Know’ and ‘Close’. Not very high brow, I agree, and actually described as ‘The Eastenders meets the Sopranos’ in the credits on the cover. There is Irish interest – we do violence so well – in ‘The Know’ and a very convincing and sympathetic protrayal of a prostitute doing the best by her family in ‘Close’. Have now just started ‘The Bonfire of the vanities’.

    Turgon – just ordered ‘The Road’ on Amazon – the sister had told me about it but I had forgotten to buy it – had to have No Country for Old Men (also by him ) as well as enjoyed the film.


    Depending on how these 2 go may well go for the trilogy jobbie as well.

    Has anybody seen Daniel Day Lewis in ‘There will be blood’ – he’s absolutely shockingly bad – Charlie Chaplin with a big mustache and a silly grin – and theres more tension in an Alliance Party conference than that film. Awful.

  • Brian Walker

    On holiday I started with thrillers…

    The Night Soldiers novels by Alan Furst brilliantly and painfully evoke the atmosphere in Europe as WW2 is anticipated and then gets going, from about 1938 to 1942.
    FYI they are:
    * Night Soldiers (1988)
    * Dark Star (1991)
    * The Polish Officer (1995)
    * The World at Night (1996)
    * Red Gold (1999)
    I’ve just finished Kingdom of Shadows (2000), set in Paris, Romania, Turkey and lots elsewhere. It has as its core plot an attempt to block the Danube. But it’s more than that,a sort of literary film noir which is all about atmosphere and exotic drifting cosmopolitans. Just right for Ireland and this weather.

    The poignantly entitled End Games by Michael Dibdin who wrote the Aurelio Zen series of detective thrillers brilliantly evoking modern Italy. I’ve never forgiven Dibdin for dying prematurely last year. Local angle: he went to Friend’s School Lisburn because his dad worked at army HQ and his interest in Italy was inspired by his Classics teacher there. If you take to Dibdin do read Blood Rain, Vendetta and Cabal which is set in Rome. It begins with a body crashing down on the canopy from the dome of St Peters.

    Robert Harris’s Ghost – disappointing. A not-Tony Blair improbable thriller.

    The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid. A brilliantly handled one sided dialogue about how a highly westernised Pakistani Moslem at Princeton is gradually, almost imperceptibly radicalised.

    On the factual side. Lots of great history is being written, in a completely different spirit from when I was taught it, I’m glad to say.

    Decline and Fall of the British Empire by Piers Brendon is detailed, has insider feel and critical. I often say this when Ireland isn’t the main subject, but his Irish stuff while fair enough lacks flair – unlike his India.A harsher account than Jan Morris’s more colourful Pax Britannica trilogy.

    Tony Judt’s History of Europe since 1945, a must for understanding the development of the EU.

    The New Cold War by Edward Lucas. A pessimistic account of Putin’s policies, but written with understanding of where the Russian boss is coming from.

    Rites of Peace: The Fall of Napoleon and the Congress of Vienna by Adam Zamoyski. Written a bit like a thriller in parts, starts with Napoleon arriving back in Paris having deserted his ruined Grand Armee in Russia. Compares well with Margaret MacMillan’s instant classic on the Treaty of Versailles.

    The Whisperers by Orlando Figes is the tour de force. Too painful to read over a single period I found, it’s an account of ordinary people’s lives during the Stalin purges, based in the still-amassing archive in Russia which Figes although a foreigner partly runs. Things happened to people routinely which we would regard as beyond human endurance. Almost as appalling as the gulag from which we can keep our distance, was life in ordinary villages and blocks of flats where the regime spread the virus of refined oppression and moral corruption which truly degraded ordinary human behaviour. This we can grasp out of our own insights. The “whisperers” refers to parents who whisper the truth about their lives to each other in a corner of their cramped little flats, for fear their children repeat what they say outside –not always unthinkingly – leading to their arrest and eventual destruction.

    Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism by Michael Burleigh. Burleigh majors on the theme of the deluded liberals who make excuses for terrorists, so this may warm Turgon’s heart. The Shankill Butchers are included, but rather at second hand and again, without real feel. One of his aims is to strip terrorists of any spurious glamour. He has compendious knowledge and authority but writes a bit too bleakly for my taste.

    Dark Continent: Europe’s 20th century by Mark Mazower, a young historian who specialises in the truth about WW2 occupation, exposes the dilemmas and ambiguities of shifting positions under pressure of totalitarianism.

    In Bantry I picked up The Derry anthology edited by Sean McMahon. Lots of material for dipping into but I haven’t yet properly understood how it’s organised.

    If you get through this lot or most of it, you may feel you need another holiday. But you’ll be convinced I think, that so far C21 in spite of etc etc is a much better place to be than earlier times.

  • RepublicanStones

    Currently reading Plutarchs Lives Volume the Seventh, tough going. Picked up a first edition in Temple bar book market for 8Euro, damage to the spine and FWAT to the pages but still a bargain.

    Books I would heartily recommend that i have previously read…first and foremost,

    ‘Image and Reality’ by Dr Norman Finkelstein.

    It dispels many of the oft-held mistaken assumptions of the Palestine/Israel conflict.

    ‘The Holocaust Industry’ by Dr Norman Finkelstein

    Harrowing analysis of the misappropriation of the memory of the holocaust by certain groups.

    ‘Dining With Terrorists’ by Phil Rees

    A brilliant exposé of the reasons, methods and history of various terrorist groups, both state and non-state.

    ‘Hezbollah: The Changing Face of Terrorism’ by Judith Palmer Harik

    Brilliant analysis of the history of the Leb and the emergence of Hezbollah, and demonstrates the reasons why many western countries still have not proscribed them.

    ‘The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy’ by John J. mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt

    Frightening academic work exposing the hold certain interest groups have over Capitol Hill.

    Next up on the burner is ‘God’s Terrorists: The Wahhabi Cult and the Hidden Roots of Modern Jihad’ by Charles Allen, if any of you have read it, give us a heads up on it.

    As you can see, my taste in books is currrently heavily swayed in a certain area. But If non-fiction is not your thing and your heading on holiday, look no further than John Steinbacks ‘Cannery Row’. A beautiful, lazy, comic and occasionally sad depiction of depression era America. Its short but its guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

  • Brian Walker

    PS Forgive me for coming back but someone in a bookish thread on an Irish blog should surely mention Ireland’s own Man Booker winner, The Gathering by Ann Enright. From reviews, I picked it up reluctantly in June expecting a dirge but my fears were was confounded. It has the characters we know but not the stereotypes, including bad Irish sex, the fading Ma and worst of all the feckless migrant brother who is still much loved despite all. The Gathering itself you can guess at but the novel is written from the viewpoint of the Irish equivalent(Bray co Wicklow) of a younger Drabble NW5 or a Sarah Dunant. Which I happen to find appealing. Enright’s is a true voice of modern Ireland.

  • Rory

    Sammy Mac etc,

    I think yer man Mick Hall had referenced a good critique of “There Will Be Blood” with scathing reference to how it distorts the literary material from which (Oil) it is drawn (and a suggestion as to why such distortion).

    I was not impressed overly by the movie. I was however deeply impressed by my patience in waiting to be impressed and I may yet get into heaven for that.

    The Cohen Brothers did a very good job with their cinematic translation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. They just really seem to care about their work and might send one back to the literary source knowing that they this was a bonus they freely gave.

    I can do no more than endorse Billie Joe Remarkable’s recommendations. The variety and richness of writing in the English language is most alive and thriving in the USA. It would be easy to point to something so effortlessly great as the young Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and BJ’s short story collections but then in popular literature even really good genre “hard-boiled” UK thriller writers like Ian Rankin really can’t hold a candle to people like Dennis Lehane (Mystic River etc.) who really take you in to a time and place which they have loved and survived.


    Do read All the Pretty Horses. All great stories are of young men and uncertainty and foolish courage and young women and uncertainty and foolishness and the harsh uncertain kindness of the rich and cruelty beyond comprehension and dogged bravery that yet is not extinguished except by death.

    Great horses too! I liked it.

  • Dewi

    Cormac Mcarthy is not a nice person – he gives you nightmares – what’s the point of reading his books? Just make you have bad dreams….I hate him.

  • Garibaldy


    You didn’t really take that Burleigh book seriously did you? I’ve read several of his books, and they are neo-con rants with a few footnores. If you want a serious discussion of violence during revolutions, look not to Burleigh but to Arno Mayer’s The Furies. It might also contextualise some of the stuff Figes and his ilk discuss (but never in any sensationalist fashions honest).

  • KieranJ

    Anyone interested in early twentieth century Dublin must read James Plunkett’s masterpiece, “Strumpet City”. Without question, the best novel written by an Irishman in the last seventy five years.

  • Harry Flashman

    I recently read an article somewhere in which the author mentioned rereading “Brideshead Revisited” and how it’s still a great read. Well remembering how I had devoured most of Waugh’s stuff back in the dim and distant past in my first term at university a quarter of a century ago I decided to take it down from the shelf again for another go.

    True enough it’s a bloody good read but what astonished me was the fact that it appealed to me as an eighteen year old Irish not very Catholic virgin boy just up from Derry. I mean there can’t have been a single reference in that book to anything to which I could have possibly related or understood, so how on earth could I have enjoyed it so much at the time? Or is memory playing tricks on me and I really didn’t “get it” back then and simply ploughed on rather than admit it meant nothing to me?

    Oh dear now I feel like Charles Ryder, looking back nostalgically on a seemingly golden youth from the disappointed perspective of girth expanded, balding middle age.

  • Over Here

    I to have read The Road could not put it down and intend reading it again this winter when the allotment is a no-go area on a wet weekend.

    I have not read his other work partly because i do not want ot be disappointed as this book impressed me so much.

    One iof amy all time favourites is “That they may face the rising sun” John McGahern. when I think of the book I can see the lake in the autumn mist and I am back home again a life time ago

  • Spelling Bee

    Just finshed “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini (author of the Kite Runner) – very good read.

  • What I like about McCarthy’s The Road is that it is so like the genre of acopalyptic sci fi that was washed away by fantasy and tv book tie ins with Dr Who and Star Trek. It was like nearly every book that I had in my jacket pocket in my early twenties, most of whose names and authors I have forgotten.

    For me the great books of this summer have been Carlo Gebler’s A Good Day for a Dog.
    Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance
    Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland.

  • Buile Suibhne

    Some good books already mentioned: McCarthy’s ‘The Road’, O’Neill’s ‘Netherland’, Judt’s 1945 and Hamid’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’.
    I would also point people in the direction of Hugo Hamilton’s ‘Disguise’ which is a masterful work looking at identity and how we can choose who we are.
    Robert Harris’s Imperium is teriffic and makes me eager for his second book of that Cicero trilogy – his Pompeii is equally good at evoking another historical period. And continuing on the classical theme Anthony Everett’s biography on Cicero is a compelling read.
    Finally any of Claire Keegan’s short stories. Murakami included her in a recent collection he edited.

  • weeslabber

    The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. A classic!

  • Dewi

    Might as well repeat that everyone in NI should read Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel” at least four times.

    Me brother in law has written an excellent book –

    I promised to plug now and then – Rough Guide to Classic Novels – its very good honest

  • Dewi

    Might as well repeat that everyone in NI should read Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel” at least four times.

    Me brother in law has written an excellent book –

    I promised to plug now and then – Rough Guide to Classic Novels – its very good honest

  • My two memorable novels of the summer were :

    1. Alan Furst’s new one, The Spies of Warsaw.
    When Brian Walker reaches this, he’ll see why it’s (one of) Furst’s best. Brian calls Furst a “thriller”-writer, which indeed he is. But how can it be a “thriller” when one knows the ending must be the invasion of Poland?

    The opening section has the main character on a train from Warsaw to Belgrade, ruminating whether to read Stendhal or Simenon. The significance is that Furst is a worthy successor to both.

    That is followed by the inevitable tumble in the sleeping car, exploiting the cliché from Eric Ambler, Graham Greene and Ian Fleming. Does anyone know if the situation goes back further than Maurice Dekobra’s La Madonna de Sleepings?

    My problem with Furst is each book takes over my life until I finish it.

    2. Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland.
    O’Neill’s own life would make a basis for a fiction: a Cork-man (my statutory Irish connection for this post), resident of the Chelsea Hotel, opening bat for the (wait for it!) Staten Island Cricket Club, as well as a past international cricketer — for the Netherlands.

    Much of that comes across in an extraordinary tale of a Dutch-born cricketer in New York, his marital problems and reconciliation, and his friendship with a Trinidadian fly-by-night merchant whose handcuffed body turns up in the Gowanus Canal.

    The Americans raved about this novel: the New York Times reviewer made a comparison to Scott Fitzgerald. It has, so far, not done as well this side of the Atlantic. That’s probably because it needs a bit of effort from the reader (it’s “stream-of-consciousness” stuff) and it exploits the post-9/11 mood (but not the events) of NYC.

    In passing, the US publication has a far more-attractive and evocative dust-cover than the UK one.

    Beyond that, my best giggle lately was Giles Milton’s Edward Trencom’s Nose: A Novel of History, Dark Intrigue and Cheese. Not to be taken seriously, and distinctly whiffy. I also, long-overdue, caught up with John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I now need, really need, to visit Savannah.

    So what’s left?

    I see my “to-do” pile here is:
    Bryson’s Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid,
    Christian Wolmar’s Fire & Steam: How the Railways Transformed Britain (which seems subtly to have amended its title on the way to being a paperback),
    Mackenzie and Weisbrot on The Liberal Hour: Washington and the Politics of Change in the 1960s,
    and a remaindered reprint of Patrick O’Brian’s The Catalans: as I implied above, no authentic Irish connection with the self-inventive Mr Russ.

  • Keyser Söze

    “Might as well repeat that everyone in NI should read Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel” at least four times”.

    Just pluggin my way through this book at the moment – tough read but richly rewarding, half text book, half anecdotal. My old tutor at QUB, David Canning, recommended this to us back in 1999. They were good tutorials, different too. he went to teach in harvard soon after. Only gettin round to it now, always good to produce knowledge of how we came to this point in time in this state, and make predictions of where we’re goin.

  • It was Sammy McNally what done it


    there are ”
    Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years ” and
    “Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies”

    Are these different. I might get it on CD for the car if its available?

    Have you read “There be Dragons” – it is so well researched but although it is seems a great way ‘in’ to Welsh history and is very well written, disappointingly I am finding it very hard going. Also it is annoyingly long – a sure sign you are having difficulty.

  • Dewi

    The same Sammy. No idea if available on CD.

    Strange not read “There be Dragons” who is it by?

    The classic Welsh history is John Davies “A History of Wales”

    Chekov – strange – I agree with u on Cormac but I found “Kite Runner” absolutely gripping.

    Back on Ireland I know it had a bad press but Moloney’s Paisley was informative.

  • Sammy McNally @ 11:52 AM:

    I see Dewi @ 12:10 PM is already in ahead of me. Still, here goes nothing.

    Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel seems to use either sub-title, depending on the edition.

    There is a U.S. audiobook, I think on cassettes. I do not know to what extent it’s abbreviated. There’s even a Region 1 DVD from National Geographic.

    Then you can think about tackling Diamond’s later door-stop: Collapse.

    Could keep you going until a similar thread comes round next year.


    “Another damned, thick, square book! Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh Mr Gibbon?” [allegedly, the Duke of Gloucester to the author of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire].

  • Dewi

    “Could keep you going until a similar thread comes round next year”

    Lol Malcolm – seriously I wish he’d write something about Ireland.

  • Buile Suibhne

    I have a friend who travels in time not unlike the ‘Time Travellers Wife’, another good read. He told me that top of the best seller lists in Borders Belfast for 2018 were:

    David Trimble: ‘Cabinet, Classical Music and ‘Nobelity’
    Gerry Adams: ‘Martin McGuinness – the unauthorised story’
    Gordon Brown: ‘Humility’
    Malachi O’Doherty: ‘The fall of Sinn Fein and the rise of post Nationalism’
    Jim Allister: ‘Duped – St Andrews, Climate Change and Creationism. The evolution of the DUP.’

    Lots to look forward to!

  • I really objected to the end of Kite Runner Dewi.

    I’ve just finished reading #After Blair: David Cameron and the Conservative Tradition’, which I’ve reviewed on the blog. It’s certainly worth a read.

    ‘Football Dynamo: Russia and the People’s Game’ is a brilliant examination of what it says on the tin.

    I’ve been reading some Conrad too Turgon, ‘Under Western Eyes’, his riposte to Dostoevsky. Also Turgenev’s ‘Fathers and Sons’ which I had never read before. I took Gogol’s collected short stories to Russia as well.

    In terms of new writing ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ by Mohsin Hamid was alright.

  • Animus

    I would love to read the Joseph O’Neill book – am thinking of putting a punt on for the Booker.

    I have a big pile of books in the house which are currently being ignored and neglected, but I am reading Karen Armstrong’s The Bible, which is a biography of the Bible, and much more interesting than I thought it would be.

  • susan

    GREAT thread. Taping many of these suggestions up on the wall by the Mac for future reference.

    Best new novel I finished this summer — ah, g’wan, g’wan, the only new novel I finished this summer was Louise Erdrich’s “The Plague of Doves.” Violence, bigotry, deprivation and clashing cultures shape and diminish the lives of succeeding generations of Native American tribespeople and, er, white folks in one small Western town.

    Only history book I plowed through was Claire Wills’ excellent “That Neutral Island: A Cultural History of Ireland During the Second World War.” Being acquainted enough with tales of rural deprivation, interment of republicans, and the exodus to England to find work during “the Emergency,” I was unprepared for how affected I would be by Wills’ atmospheric account of an era so often misrepresented. Well-crafted, well-researched, fair minded..aside from the fact that it left me with a vague feeling of wishing to hang myself I highly recommend it.

  • It was Sammy McNally what done it


    Sorry wrong title it is Here Be Dragons by Sharon K. Penman (Paperback – 5 Sep 1991).

    U tried it?

  • Actually I am off NO politics in my next book and there isn’t even a mention of SF in it. It’s called Empty Pulpits: Ireland’s Retreat from Religion and will be in the shops next month.

  • Sorry NI, that’s not a double negative..

  • Rory

    That’s a novel idea, Chekov – objecting to the end of a novel. It had never occurred to me before now. How do you go about it? Who do you place your objection with – the author, the publisher, the bookseller, the Minister for Cultural Affairs? If your objection is met with a positive response is the ending then changed to suit your requirements? I can’t ask Scott Fitzgerald himself but I suppose I could always appeal to The Bodley Head and maybe Gatsby will yet bestir himself and climb dripping from that swimming pool and Daisy will learn to love him.

    By the way who is the Minister for Cultural Affairs in your neck of the woods – Sammy Wilson perhaps?

  • Ok Rory. If you want it in simple terms the end was shite. It was tacked on, contrived, it didn’t fit with the rest of the novel. The start of the novel was an evocative account of Afghanistan, the end was a ridiculous romp.

  • susan @ 01:22 PM:

    The Claire Wills book is a goodie; but it didn’t sweep me away. I found I had to read it in tandem with Brian Girvin’s The Emergency to retain a political overview. That, in turn, led me to back-track to John P.Duggan on Eduard Hempel, the war-time German Minister in Dublin.

    In retrospect, I cannot determine what, apart from the human dimensions, Wills greatly adds to Girvin and Roberts 1999 symposium Ireland and the Second World War: Politics, Society and Remembrance (of which I do not have a personal copy). Roberts does a piece on how the historians’ interpretation of Irish neutrality has changed over the years. I also recall Donal Ó Drisceoil’s essay, on the topic of “Censorship as Propaganda” (I think it had a more extended title than that). In the same collection, Brian Barton focuses on the Northern Irish experience, and the failures workings of the Craigavon/Andrew/Brooke administration. To some extent, that’s a reprise of Barton’s 1995 thing for the Ulster Historical Foundation.

    If all this sounds a bit pretentious and dry, it shouldn’t.

    One keeps running into anecdotes:

    The editor of the Irish Times, the magnificent R.M.Smyllie, by-passing the censorship’s ban on casualty reports by referring to “lead-poisoning” and “boating accidents”.

    Frau Hempel, once the salary from Berlin dried up, reduced to making and selling cakes (and, predictably, becoming known in Dublin as “the Hun bun factory”).

    Hempel’s recognition code for Goertz, the German spy: “Where is the w.c.?” (probably sounds less daft in German).

    Did the Arnhem landings fail because of a Hempel tip-off?

  • Dewi

    Not tried that Sammy

    Not tried yet but looks cool.

    Susan :

    “it left me with a vague feeling of wishing to hang myself I highly recommend it.”

    I get that feeling when I see Malcolm’s reading list 🙂

  • Dewi

    Mind you Malcolm I’ve actually read the Girvin book…..

  • Rory


    Your mention of the Arnhem failure and rumors of tip-offs aroused my interest. Perhaps some 25 years ago I was having a nice drink down on the Farringdon Road with an assorted company of Morning Star staff, union men from Mount Pleasant postal sorting office and a few lonely Guardian hacks standing folornly at the bar attempting to look important and not be caught “ear-wigging”. There were a number of men present who had served and seen action in WW2 (unlike me who had only ever had some action in W2) and the topic of Arnhem came up. Two of the veterans had been at Arnhem and were adamant that Arnhem was not a failure that it had in fact gone well according to plan and that plan was to waste the core of the brightest and best of the Allied fighting men who had won their spurs and the respect of their men in action throughout the war and were now as a consequence highly politicised and determined that come victory the old order at home must now be swept away. Allied victory was inevitable at this stage and such men were deemed to be dangerous and it was thought better that they did not return to their homelands to provide leadership. So, in Britain instead of socialism we got National Health dried milk, orange juice concentrate, gleaming dentures for all (especially the young and fashion conscious) and film documentaries on how to be decent chaps and gels.

    This may well be the stuff of conspiracy theory paranoia but then Gore Vidal insists that such paranoia is the healthy option, we ignore the conspiracy at our peril. That ignored Panzer division still bothers me.

  • BfB

    Deadwood is a great HBO series out on DVD. Great sense of reality….Must see. Like your really there……

  • BfB

    Ernie Hemingway is my man.
    To Have and Have Not captured me from the start.
    Harry Morgan grabbed me by the neck and off I went.
    Main reason why I’ve been to Cuba…..
    Ernie captured the place…for sure.

  • Rory @ 03:49 PM:

    Nice one, that man.

    A great idea, but one that undoubtedly wouldn’t work in London commuter country, is the free book-exchange that operates at the New Jersey Transit station near my daughter’s home. You dump your literary detritus on the carousel, and acquire anything that appeals. There is usually something of interest among the chick-lits and dross SF.

    So, last month I picked up Mark Perry: Partners in Command, an account of the Eisenhower-George Marshall relationship.

    I hoped for more on the post-war Marshall Plan, but that was outside the main scope of the book. Instead, I got a re-run of the tensions between Eisenhower and Montgomery.

    For some reason, the book did not include the Mount Pleasant explanation of “Operation Market Garden”. That looks like a variant on the truism that “the British fighting man can stand up to anything, except the British War Office.” Bob Mitchell (of Kinnegad and TCD) had a corollary: an unfailing predicator of imminent British military disaster was when the War Office dispatched largely Welsh, Scottish and Irish regiments.

  • Brian Walker

    So it always get down to the conspiracy theories even in a “wonderful bookish thread”.!
    “…an unfailing predicator of imminent British military disaster was when the War Office dispatched largely Welsh, Scottish and Irish regiments.”
    Witty,Waughian but a bit unfair, Malcolm. What about Anzac Cove and Vimy Ridge?
    The experience of one Irish regiment at least, contradicts.

    The redoubtable 9th(Londonderry)Heavy anti-aircraft Regiment RA, after guarding Alexandra harbour and Port Suez, chasing about the western desert well behind the PBI, doing their bit in invading Sicily then the Italian mainland, were spared Monte Cassino and the brunt of Kesselring’s fierce resistance to Alexander and Clark’s push north and gently retired to Lincs.
    Or at least Gunner Jack Walker 1467141 was, who emerged from the whole 6 years without a scratch. Else you might not be reading this. And there’s a book about it too, the 9th Londonderry I mean, not Gunner Walker – Wall of Steel by Richard Doherty. A work of deep affection for the people and the place.

  • malachi @ 02:15 PM:

    Everybody should refer, instantly, to Malachi’s own blog for his account of a wake.

    I wish I could write that well.

  • Dewi

    Malachi good – thanks Malcolm. There’s an old thriller called “Marathon Man” – William Goldman I think – film Ok but book totally magnificent.

  • susan

    Pitch perfect, Malachi. Pitch perfect.

    Malcolm Redfellow: We all wish you could write that well, too. ;o)

  • Gum

    I hope McCarthy picks up the Nobel, he deserves the recognition. I agree that it’s unremittingly grim but the writing is amazing.

    Maybe try Don DeLillo for a more humourous American author, or David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas for a great British read.

  • Turgon

    It is also in a way an uplifting story; almost a redemption tale. I must admit to so wishing the father and son well and to very significantly identifying with the father who seemed to be a decent, educated man who was willing to do anything to protect his son. As McCarthy put it “Each the other’s world entire” and that the boy was “His warrant.”

    Brilliant yet utterly awful: I find it difficult to get the book out of my mind and I will not let my wife or mother read it. Not being condescending but knowing them it would distress them a great deal.

    The only thing I cannot accept is that it is a great call for environmentalism: I think that is going too far.

  • Rory

    “I will not let my wife or mother read it.”

    Yes, but ask yourself this, “Is this the type of book you would want your servants to read?”. Which is the question the judge put to the jury at the culmination of the Lady Chatterly trial.

    What if your wife or mother prove to be disobedient? I suppose you could always poke their eyes out.

  • Dewi

    “I have a friend who travels in time not unlike the ‘Time Travellers Wife’, another good read. He told me that top of the best seller lists in Borders Belfast for 2018 were”

    1. Saville Report

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Just finished Brian Rowan’s new book, How the Peace was Won, which is not bad at all if you’re a NI political/security anorak. Perhaps he puts himself at the centre of things a bit too much (although he does agonise about this), but I did enjoy it. The style’s tad melodramatic sometimes, and it’s very pro-Process (if you know what I mean), but it’s something that I found readable and informative. I always think Rowan’s books are done in the style of whoever does the deep-sounding voiceovers for Hollywood thrillers.

    Bought that book Brian Walker mentioned, Blood & Rage, though I don’t expect to be overly impressed. Next on the list is Terror and Consent, which I have higher expectations of.

  • Turgon

    Yes I need some servants. Unfortunately they seem quite expensive these days and my house is too small to have a servants’ wing. I am hoping that with property prices falling I may be able to get such a house but unfortunately my house seems to be falling in value as well. A bit annoying that.

    Even if I got a suitable house paying servants would be rather difficult: any suggestions?

  • Seimi

    ‘The Road’ is an absolutely brilliant book. I found it hard to put the book down. As for other good reads, and pardon if I don’t remember authors:
    The bookseller of Kabul
    A thousand splendid suns (I know it’s already been mentioned, but it’s a fantastic book!)
    Bury my heart at Wounded Knee ( which I’m now reading for the 20th – at least! time! This book breaks my heart!)
    And the best book I’ve read in the past 2 years – The book thief. If you haven’t already read this, do yourself a favour and read it now! Absolutely beautiful!

  • Dewi

    Bury my heart at Wounded Knee

    O yes Seimi – fantastic

  • Belfast Gonzo

    Spotted Mrs Gonzo reading a detective book earlier that seemed to contain a subliminal message for Sinn Fein on the devolution of justice: The Summer that Never Was, by Peter Robinson.