Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff

Cleopatra VII, Queen of Egypt. Everyone knows who she is, and everyone knows her story. Or at least what we know of her story in the forms it has come down to us. My first experience of her life was through Shakespeare, presumably as was many others. Although I knew of her before, I was profoundly affected by Antony and Cleopatra, and although I’ve only read it and studied it once, the sadness and melancholy I took away from that play has never really left me. However, Shakespeare was writing fiction, for entertainment purposes, and although I was aware at the time of reading it he stuck relatively closely to his sources, I want to know about her life, who she was, the world she lived in, and what really happened during the thirty-nine years of her life.

This book goes some way to answering those questions; however it is also brutally honest in its assertion that we will never truly know and much of what we ‘know’ is only speculation and even guesswork. That didn’t make this book any less fascinating though. At its essence it could be said that this book was 300 pages of possibilities, yet instead of detracting from its brilliance, this only seemed to add to its appeal.

Reading history is something of a return to an old love for me, and the whole process of accumulating, analysing and assessing evidence is something I have simply got out of the habit of doing. Not so for Stacy Schiff though. In the very first chapter she states

“History is written not only by posterity, but for posterity as well. Our most comprehensive sources never met Cleopatra. Plutarch was born seventy-six years after she died. Appian wrote at a remove of more than a century; Dio of well over two. Cleopatra’s story differs from most women’s stories in that the men who shaped it-for their own reasons-enlarged rather than erased her role. Her relationship with Mark Antony was the longest of her life, but her relationship with his rival, Augustus, was the most enduring. To Rome, to enhance the glory, he delivered up the tabloid version of an Egyptian queen, insatiable, treacherous, bloodthirsty, power-crazed. He magnified Cleopatra to hyperbolic proportions so as to do the same with his victory-and to smuggle his real enemy, his former brother-in-law out of the picture. The end result is a nineteenth century British life of Napoleon, or a twentieth-century history of America, were it to have been written by Chairman Mao.”

In terms of historical analysis, this quotation contains the two themes that crop up constantly throughout the narrative. That of the unreliability of the major sources, due to both their distance from the events they are writing about, and their bias to Rome, and also Cleopatra’s gender and her posthumous manipulation because of it being a major stumbling block to knowing many true facts. Time and time again throughout this book, it is mentioned that the sources put a roman or male spin on things, or disagree vehemently on an event. It is an incredibly honest book, in that it frequently says we don’t know, or can never know because the evidence just doesn’t exist. In contrast though, the author is never afraid to give her own opinion on what she considers to be likely, unlikely or downright impossible. Overall, it made a refreshing balance of honesty, possibility and opinion.

The quotation also highlights one of my favourite aspects of this book. The last line is just one example of Schiff’s writing that made this book so readable and accessible. In this case it is about the story as a whole, but it is frequently used about specific events or people, using a comparison from much more modern times to illuminate a situation that is totally alien to modern readers due of the complete difference in attitudes to life. It’s a brilliant technique, and used to great effect to explain complex situations in few words.

Obviously, a life of Cleopatra is difficult to write without some background into the period she lived in, and Schiff doesn’t skimp on this either. Both Egypt and Rome are detailed fully, and particularly in the passages about Egypt, the luxury and opulence almost comes off the page, as well as the violence and brutality of the era. Mothers killing children, siblings killing each other, as well as marrying each other. It’s all there, but it all serves a purpose of placing this mythical queen in her proper context, and attempting to separate her from her fictional creation.

Context is a vital part of this book. I felt that although it became clear fairly early on in the book that I was not going to find a ‘true’ life of Cleopatra, I did get an incredibly detailed account of the world she lived in, and the persona she created for herself. It would be incredibly difficult to understand her actions fully without the in depth knowledge of the previously mentioned murder and incest, as well as her association with Isis, with which she persisted throughout her life. And this context was done so well!

So although it is still three hundred pages of possibilities, it is also three hundred pages of brilliance. Although, at the end of it, there are still no definite conclusions to how Cleopatra lived or died, it is informative all the way through. For me, it’s brilliance stems from its de-bunking of myths, its in depth analysis and comparison of various sources and its honesty and integrity, in admitting that there are some things we will just never know, whilst still not being afraid to offer an opinion. I think that is one of the reasons I loved this book so much. It managed to create a life for Cleopatra, which seemed believable, without ever losing sight of the fact that it is just a creation. What I loved about it is the same as what disappointed me, as I still don’t know exactly what sort of life she led, but I do know a lot more about the world she lived in. I do however know why I’ll never know, and somehow that’s enough!

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Newspaper of Claremont Street by Elizabeth Jolley

Despite its title this book is not about a newspaper at all. The title refers to the central character, Marguerite Morris, although in her current life she is only known as ‘Newspaper’. This is because she cleans a large number of the houses in Claremont Street and makes it her business to know everyone else’s business and pass the gossip along. She spends many an hour sat in the local shop, although she rarely buys anything, instead using her intimate knowledge of the shopper’s homes to inform them of what they need to purchase. To say she is a thrifty woman would be understating the point slightly, as she lives on bread and boiled vegetables, saves every penny she can and dreams about her savings amassing as a mountain of coins

“They had no idea that Weekly’s bank account, besides filling several bank books, filled her mind every morning. It was a daily vision, and took the form of an exquisite cone shaped mountain made entirely of money, with a silver scree of coins on its steep sides. Every morning she pictured this shining heap, gilded on the rosetinted sky of the dawn, before getting up”

I felt a strange sort of sympathy for Weekly. There are times she is manipulative and devious, getting as much a she can out of her employers, for example charging them bus fares, when she only really lives at the end of the street. Yet the majority of what she receives from the people she cleans for they give her out of a desire not to appear mean or stingy to their neighbours, not from any real affection for Weekly. I don’t know if I’d call this satire, but I did feel it was mildly poking fun at the ‘keeping up with the Jones’’ attitude that develops around Weekly. Through this attitude Weekly manages to secure a free car,

“of course, they had given the car to Weekly for how could they, the Kingston’s, though they always felt short of money, take her money away from her when they already had two other cars and two properties and a boat.”

And then, in the spirit of reputation

“The Chatham’s had paid for her driving lessons as it was unthinkable for them not to do something when it was known that the Kingston’s had given the car to Weekly. That week she was heaped with presents of all sorts”

All progresses along these lines, with Weekly continuing her work and thriftiness until one of the residents of the street asks for her help, and ends up being more than a match for Weekly in the manipulative stakes, which leaves Weekly’s busy yet ordinary life in disarray, and threatens to ruin her plans for a peaceful future.

The story of Weekly as a cleaner is interspersed with her memories of her past, specifically her relationships with her mother and brother, Victor. She has a relatively poor childhood, with little to call her own, and in this context it becomes easy to understand why she is so obsessed with saving her money to acquire the one thing she desires more than anything else for herself. The memories themselves are revealed in a very piecemeal fashion, particularly those connected to her brother, who she had a difficult relationship with, and was used by, but whom she loved very much. It is clear that she feels guilt at something she did to him, but what this actually is is not revealed until the conclusion of the story, and it is this tension that turns what seems like a very pedestrian story into something more interesting.

Although the story made me smile in places, and Weekly, despite her faults, was for the most part a likeable character, it also had some dark moments and on one or two occasions, Weekly showed an incredibly dark and cruel side of herself. Once with some cats, and again close to the end, in an incident involving rubber boots, mud and a pear tree. It was an incident that made me re-think the whole book, but somehow it didn’t change my opinion of Weekly, possibly because by that point her life has been revealed, so it is easy to see how and why she wants what she gets, and why she will go to almost any means to get it.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick read, yet it was never quite what it seemed. Events were always making me reconsider what I thought about Weekly, and each time I thought I’d got her figured out, she did something else, be it kind or not, to make me change my opinion.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The History of History by Ida Hattemer-Higgins

Amnesia, memory, madness and history. They would be the key words I would use if I had to try and describe this novel in single words. Luckily, I don’t because short, simple words can never do this complicated story justice. More precisely, the book is concerned with the effect of memory, or its absence, on humanity, and how memories, both personal and historical can affect a person’s state of mind. That’s a few more words, but it still doesn’t do it justice.

Margaret Taub emerges from a forest, tired, dirty and wearing men’s clothes with no knowledge of how she got there, what she was doing to get into that state, and no recollection of the previous six months of her life. However, she returns to her life, studying in Berlin, and conducting walking tours for tourists, taking in some of the key points of Berlin’s history. When, out of the blue, she receives a letter from an unknown Dr Araschebilis inviting a Margaret Taubner to an appointment, she decides to attend, if only to let this doctor know she must have the wrong person, but also to try and shed some light on her amnesia. It takes the whole of the novel for the shocking revelation to what Margaret was actually doing in the forest to emerge, and we witness the gradual degeneration of Margaret as she remembers and comes to terms with her own past, via an obsession with some specific historical characters from Berlins murky Nazi past.

Margaret has an in depth knowledge of Berlin’s history due to her studies at the university, which she puts to good use on her tours of Berlin. However, when the morning after her first appointment with the doctor, she wakes up to find all the buildings have turned to flesh, it is our first realisation that something is not quite right with Margaret. She becomes obsessed with Magda Goebbels, who infamously killed her six children in the bunker at the end of the war, and also with the history of Regina Strauss, a Jewish mother who killed herself and her three children in their kitchen to escape the camps. Her obsession centres on whether these killings were justified, or even ethically correct, and she is haunted by the ghost of Regina, and a representation of Magda as a half woman, half bird creature.

Margaret is a fairly disturbed character, but it is through her eyes we see Berlin, juxtaposed with memories of hr past coming back to her. Through Margaret’s disintegrating present, we see the history of the city, or at least the version she creates. As Margaret continues her tours, she glosses over certain facts, because she believes no tourist would know what to do with the information that Jewish prisoners availed themselves of the brothel services provided by female Jewish prisoners, who were then killed at the first sign of disease. She may be right there and I think this was one of he key points of the novel for me. Margaret is trying to reconstruct her past, just as the tourists on her walks are trying to recreate the Berlin of Nazi Germany. But this is never possible, as looking back filters history through your own particular lens, just as the tourists do, and just as Margaret does with her obsession with the characters of the time. The doctor who becomes Margaret’s guide through her delirium says

“You, my pet, are having an identity crisis that has become moral despair. It is impossible for the human animal to remember his or her own life without cleaving a line, a line of some kind, however capriciously zigzag lay, narcissistic, arrogant or, on the other hand, self-blaming and unforgiving, between right and wrong, credit and blame.”

As much as I enjoyed this book, I would have to say that I think a lot of the meaning went over my head. I’m sure it would benefit from a second read. That said, I don’t feel this detracted from what I did get from this book. The images created, whether they be of buildings turned to flesh, families committing suicide or playing cards with ghosts at the kitchen table were intense and beautifully portrayed. Margaret herself continues her tours of Berlin throughout most of the book, and the information given in the tours was illuminating both as information about Nazi run Germany and in light of Margaret’s situation. And as bizarre and odd as the book was at times, as the novel progresses, and the information about what actually happened to Margaret, or more precisely, what she brought on herself, becomes clear, it is heartbreakingly easy to see why she chose to forget those six months, and why her mental state deteriorated as she was forced to remember them.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Booking Through Thursday-Age Innapropriate (or censorship)

What do you think of censoring books BECAUSE of their intended age? Say, books too “old” for your kids to read?

Generally, I don't believe in censoring books. Offhand I can't think of a book that either of my children would want to read that I wouldn't let them if they chose to. I have on occasion suggested to my daughter (she's eight) that a book she is interested in may be too complicated for her to enjoy, but that is much more about the text itself instead of the subject matter. If she still wanted to read it, I would let her, but just make her aware that it may be too hard for her and not to let it put her off reading, just to try something else.

Censorship in terms of content is much more dangerous ground. My core belief about reading is that books are a way of learning about the world, other people, ourselves and the relationships between these things, and I don't see how censoring books for children can fit with that idea. Thinking about my son, who at a bright thirteen, is more likely to be reading adult books, I would prefer him to read things with my knowledge, and for him to know that any issues he doesn't understand, or that make him uncomfortable he can talk to me about. That's got to be better than him possibly reading something surreptitiously, and either misunderstanding the content, or just feeling unable to talk abut it because he's not supposed to have read it.

I do also believe that banning, or even restricting books is counter-productive. As a case in point, my son recently tried to take a young adult book out of the library (Iboy by Kevin Brooks) and was told he couldn't as he would have to be sixteen. It was a young adult book, and one by an author he's read before. However, it made him all the more keen to read the book. It's a natural reaction to want to know what you're missing out on! He read the book in the end, (I took it out on my ticket) and we discussed the controversial scene. In this instance it was a book that appealed to him anyway, it's central character being a boy who has an IPhone dropped on his head and wakes up to discover he has technological powers transferred from the phone! It's his dream, his Ipod touch never being more than an arms reach away from him! But in other circumstances, I feel he could be pushed to read a book he wasn't overly interested in, just because he's told he can't. And I don't see how that can ever be a good thing.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Artemis Fowl and the Atantis Complex by Eoin Colfer

I do like Artemis Fowl. Actually, he’s not my favourite character in the series, that’s an honour reserved for Mulch Diggums, who is always called upon to use his rather unique talents to save the day, but as far as children’s/young adult literature goes, Artemis Fowl is up there with the best of them. I don’t read a lot of children’s books though, so I don’t have a lot to compare it to. This one is the seventh in the series, and the fact that I‘ve got that far is testament to how much I like them, because I don’t read much in the way of series either.

To anyone familiar with Artemis, this one is a little different. For a start, Artemis has summoned a meeting with his fairy contacts on a totally altruistic basis, to showcase his new idea to save the polar icecaps, which incidentally they are just as concerned about saving to protect their underground world. This in itself arouses suspicion in Captain Holly Short, who although she classes Artemis as her friend, is aware he rarely does something for nothing. Added to that is Artemis’s peculiar obsession with the number five, there needing to be five people at the meeting, and trying to construct sentences in multiples of five words whenever possible. And avoiding the number four, as that means death in Chinese! Compared to a usually uber- rational and never superstitious Artemis, it is not long before Holly spots the difference, and is sending concerned messages to Foaly, the genius, technical wizard of the party. Wirelessly, through communications devices far superior to human capability, obviously.

The end result is that between them they diagnose Atlantis Complex, more commonly known in human circles as multiple personality disorder. But this is best described by the Fairy encyclopaedia, Wicca-Pedia (this bit made me smile)

“Atlantis Complex is a psychosis common amongst guilt-ridden criminals first diagnosed by Dr E.Dypess of the Atlantis Brainology Clinic. Other symptoms include obsessive behaviour, paranoia, delusions and in extreme cases, multiple personality disorder. Dr E.Dypess is also known for his hit song ‘I’m in two minds about you’.
Holly thought that this last bit was probably Wicca-humour”

As usual, things do not go entirely to plan, and it is not long before a fairy spaceship of unknown origin comes crashing down on the group, nearly killing Artemis, and leading the group to sort out the mess, and save the fairy people once again. However, this time they must do it without Artemis, as the disaster has pushed him over the edge and left him as Orion, who is the total antithesis of Artemis and of virtually no use at all. For example his response to the crisis is:

“I have been taking stock of the situation from the rear seat as it were, and I suggest that we retire to a safe distance and construct some form of bivouac”

Although different in style slightly, this has all the trademarks of the previous books. And to be honest I’m surprised to see myself writing that, and saying I like the book. All the characters are there, they all play a part in saving the day, because obviously everything works out okay in the end, and the group save the day at the last moment. Even Orion/Artemis plays his part, complete with hilarious comments throughout. In fact Orion as Artemis sheds a little more light on the self awareness begun in Artemis in the last book, and since this one doesn’t really conclude the story of the icecaps, since the crash landing became of crucial importance, I wouldn’t mind betting that that’s where the next, and final book will go. But I’m probably wrong there!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

To Bed with Grand Music by Marghanita Laski

For what is quite a short book, To Bed with Grand Music packs one hell of a punch. The tone of the book is set from the striking first sentence;

“Graham and Deborah Robertson lay in bed together and tried to say goodbye to each other”

Set during WWII, Graham is being posted to Cairo, all be it to a fairly cushy office job, and Deborah is being left behind in the country to look after their child and home. On this last evening together, Deborah promises complete fidelity, yet Graham will not be drawn into such a commitment, and will only go so far as to say that he will not fall in love with another woman, therefore ensuring his emotional fidelity to Deborah. Deborah however is not really the maternal type, and the limited opportunities of life in a village with her child soon begin to take their toll on her. With a gentle nudge from her mother, she decides that a job would be the right thing for her, and taking the bull by the horns, she finds one in London, moves in with an old college friend and leaves her son in the care of her housekeeper for the week, returning only at weekends to spend time with Timmy.

On her first exploratory visit to London, Deborah immediately compromised the vow of fidelity she made to Graham, leaving the next morning disgusted with herself and determined to stay at home and be a good wife and mother and wait for Graham to return. However, when a job almost lands in her lap, it doesn’t take long for Deborah to justify returning to London, even managing to use Timmy’s well being as justification for the necessity for her to go.

“Then, she said, there’s the question of Timmy. I rather think ones got to take the long view. Of course it would be nicer for him, and for me too, to stay together, but one’s got to consider what’s best for him, not what’s nicest. It’s no good bringing him up to a comfortable dependent security that certainly doesn’t exist nowadays and isn’t likely to in the world he’ll grow up in. Surely, however much it may hurt me, I owe it to my child to make him strong enough to face all knocks of life rather than to protect him against them?”

Justifying her actions, usually only moments after she has stated how wrong they are, is something Deborah makes a bit of a habit of throughout her time in London. At first, she does make an effort to stay away from all forms of socialising, rebutting all attempts by her socialite flatmate to include her in her partying, but it is not long before she is involved in a relationship with an American officer, who is also married, but has promised his wife he will only philander with someone he respects as much as her. From this point Deborah moves from man to man, soon getting to a point where she is never without a lover, even asking one of her beaus to teach her how to be a good mistress, with which he duly obliges.

Deborah is the sole focus of this book character wise, as Graham departs in the first few pages, and is just the absent husband all the way through the novel. And it left me in a bit of a quandary about my reaction to her. I honestly have to say I didn’t like Deborah very much. All the justification and the seemingly materialistic concerns which led to her descent into promiscuity did not compel her to me very much at all. Obviously, this book is set in a different time, when it was very much the norm that women married and stayed faithful, yet men seemed to have to promise no such thing. It was not expected of them. I do feel I can understand Deborah’s frustrations with the restrictions on her life, particularly since they are restrictions that Graham, from his letters, does not seem to be suffering. For more than half of the book, I did feel like I could sympathise with her plight, although not empathise, yet there came a point where within a couple of pages she composes a letter to her husband requesting he increase her allowance to fund her lifestyle (although obviously she does not tell him this), and then makes a passing comment that really changed my opinion of her.

“Well, darling, thts just one of the things I’ve really thought out for myself and I know it’s better to be happy than unhappy, and not only for me but for my baby as well. I like this sort of life, in fact, I love it, and seeing as how I’m hurting no-one and doing myself quite a lot of good, I rather think I’ll carry on with it. I’ve come to the conclusion that conventional morals were invented by a lot of unattractive bitches to make themselves feel good.”

However, although at this point I lost sympathy for Deborah, and to be honest, she doesn’t do much to redeem herself in my estimation, particularly with her actions at the very end of the book, I did finish the novel wondering about what it meant to be a woman left behind during the war. This story paints a very different picture to the common wartime images of women at home, digging for victory and such, that it is impossible not to finish it thinking about possible alternative lifestyles women may have led. If the truth behind this book is to be believed, then there was a whole subculture (I’m aware that word would not have been used then, but it just seems to fit), of women taking up independent lives for themselves, and part of me wants to say ‘who can blame them’. Especially with the double standards between the expectations of men and women. It does make me think that my reaction to Deborah should not be as cut and dry as it is, but I just can’t get over her constant justification of her lifestyle and more than that, her virtual abandonment of her child to further her own desires.

Despite my dislike of the main character, I did love this book. All credit to the author for creating such a dislikeable character, but a book that I love! I haven’t really been compiling a favourites list for this year, either physically or mentally, but if I had, this would be on it. It was very thought provoking, and above all left me grateful for being born in a time where I can, within reason, do as I choose, and not ever really be put in a position where I would have to make the kind of decisions Deborah had to make, however much I disliked the reasoning behind her making those choices.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

I was prompted to read No Country for Old Men after reading this post about another McCarthy novel here, and realising that since loving The Road, I hadn’t read any more despite having two on the shelf. And I loved this one almost as much as The Road, so heres hoping it’s not too long until I read another.

Vietnam War veteran Llewellyn Moss stumbles across a failed drug convoy comprising numerous shot up vehicles, even more dead bodies, the drugs, and a case containing two million dollars. Almost instantaneously deciding to take the money, he returns home, packs his young wife off to her mother’s, and makes a run for it with the cash. Hot on his heels is a professional hit man with his own moral code, unusual execution methods, and a penchant for deciding I someone lives or dies by a coin toss. Also chasing him is Sherriff Bell, who knows exactly what Chigurh is capable of, and that he will stop at nothing to get his man. Through alternating storylines we see the actions and whereabouts of Moss, Chigurh and Bell. As Chigurh gets closer to Moss he is prepared to annihilate everyone that lies in his way, which is in effect everyone he comes into contact with, so the book is littered with dead bodies.

Although I can’t shake the feeling that Moss brought a lot of what follows on himself, he is a likeable character, and I was rooting for him all the way. It’s a side issue, and doesn’t detract from how I felt about this book, but really, why take the money? He obviously knew what he was getting into, to send his wife away, and go on the run. And Sherriff Bell is an officer about to retire who just wants to see out his last days in office peacefully and retire to spend time with his wife. In terms of personal feelings and past history we know more about Bell than any other character, mainly because each chapter is preceded by his musings, mainly on the state of the nation today, and how corruption and violence is widespread, and it is easy to see his despair both for the job he loved, and the nation he calls home.

“I read the papers every mornin. Mostly I suppose just to try and figure out what might be headed this way. Not that I’ve done all that good a job at headin it off. It just keeps getting harder. Here a while back they was two boys run into one another and one of em was from California and one from Florida. And they met somewheres or other in between. And then they set out together travelin around the country killing people. I forget how many they did kill. Now what are the chances of s thing like that? Them two had never laid eyes on one another. There can’t be that many of em. I don’t think. Well, we don’t know. Here the other day they was a woman put her baby in a trash compactor. Who would think of such a thing?”

Sherriff Bell’s narrative gives a framework to the whole chase story, and adds another level to what would already be a very good story anyway. His monologues give a sense of the destruction that crime in general, and specifically drug crime is having on the country, and particularly on Bell’s sense of hs ability to do his job. Throughout the book, it emerges that both Bell and Moss are affected by a pervading sense of guilt for their actions in Vietnam, which they both feel a sense of shame for, and although I felt this was an undercurrent, rather than a main plotline, it does bind the two men together, against the incredibly chilling Chigurh.

Chigurh is something else altogether, and it would be easy to characterise him as pure evil, killing anyone in sight, almost for the fun of it. In my opinion, he is, in fact pure evil, but he does live by a moral code, all be it a very strange one, one of his own devising. I think that makes him all the more frightening. Chigurh very simply believes in a form of destiny. If it is your time to die, then there is nothing you can do to stop it, and pleading with him is pointless, he is just the bringer of the inevitable. Someone with this belief would be a very scary person to meet, and deadly to cross. His worldview, and his ability to carry this out, is really all we know about Chigurh. This lack of any knowledge about his past, or his motivations for thinking like this just serves to make him more frightening. And some of his speech is truly chilling.

“I had no say in the matter. Every moment in your life is a turning and everyone a choosing. Somewhere you made a choice. All followed to this. The accounting is scrupulous. The shape is drawn. No line can be erased. I had no belief in your ability to move a coin to your bidding. How could you? A person’s path through the world seldom changes and even more seldom will it change abruptly. And the shape of your path was visible from the beginning.”

This passage doesn’t come until close to the end of the book, but viewed as a microcosm of the whole novel, it can be seen that actions at the start are inevitable, and even with the faint glimmer of hope that permeated my reading experience, it should have been obvious from the start how this would all pan out.

I think part of the intensity of this novel comes from the sparseness of the language. McCarthy is very economical with his language, and there are no superfluous words in this story. In fact, most of the progression is achieved through dialogue between characters, without punctuation, so the whole thing flows very quickly, as a normal conversation would. This seems to add to the tense atmosphere and the pace and chaos of the characters interactions becomes real. With no punctuation, it is hard not to read quickly, adding a sense of breathlessness and urgency to the action happening on the pages. In contrast, although Chigurh, who is the calmest character in the book, still has no punctuation in his speech, he tends to have longer passages, and he never seems to use slang, so his clarity of mind comes across as our reading naturally slows down. It’s a brilliant way of actually using the words on the page to enhance the story.

I‘m not sure I could say I enjoyed this book, as I don’t think it was altogether a pleasant reading experience. It was harrowing in places, tense in places, depressing in places and thought provoking most of the way through. I was gripped, and read it quickly, and totally absorbed in the cat and mouse chase between the three main protagonists. Yet, when that abruptly stopped, and the book turned into something else, I was just as gripped. This book paints a pretty damning picture of drug running underworld, but more than that, it presents a clear and simple picture of how one ill thought out act can change a life irrevocably, and that of many other people.

Fantastic book, fantastic author and I definitely need to read more. I think I may need to read this again too.