Remedies for a crushed soul: Chris Cleave’s novels and some uplifting non-fiction

June 21, 2022 at 8:25 am | Posted in Common Good | Leave a comment
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Everyone Brave Is Forgiven

‘Reading too much non-fiction crushes the soul.’ I heard someone say that. But so much brilliant non-fiction keeps being published that there’s barely time to read anything else!

One fiction book I’m glad I did make time for is Chris Cleave’s latest novel: Everyone Brave Is Forgiven (Simon & Schuster, 2016). Like his other novels, this one glows with wit and love; all three of his are gripping. (The other two are: Little Bee, 2010, and Gold, 2013.) I wrote about Little Bee in my June 2016 blog –

Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is alive with stunningly original writing and much of the dialogue is laugh-aloud funny. The novel is set in the Second World War and we have a visceral sense of the London Blitz, enduring the deprivations and chaos, the insanities and losses with the characters we’ve come to care about.

First we meet Mary, an upper class young woman of whom nothing is expected but to look presentable and make a respectable marriage. When she volunteers for the war effort, imagining the clandestine glamour of being a spy, she’s assigned to teach children rejected for evacuation to the country because of being mentally disabled or for the colour of their skin.

The publisher has allowed the author to use terms that the people of that time and place used – terms shockingly racist to our ears, but authentic. The important thing is that even in this unenlightened milieu we see some people rising above their society’s bigotry to treat everyone with the same open-minded attitude, judging them on their mind and heart rather than on an arbitrary measure of skin colour or some other minor thing.

The most original, suspenseful way of saving someone’s life

Art restorer Alastair enlists for the war. His best friend Tom, in the course of his job as an education administrator, meets Mary. The foundations of a tragic love story are laid. I had to take it back to the library before taking notes but I won’t forget it and you won’t either. I could hardly put it down because of the gripping plot and the poetry in the telling of it. The author was inspired by notebooks left by his grandparents. Probably only his imagination is responsible for describing the most original (and certainly suspenseful) way I’ve heard for saving someone from drowning. There, you’ll just have to buy or borrow it now! Apart from sharing with readers a potentially life-saving manoeuvre, it’s a gripping immersion in a timelessly uplifting story about love, loyalty and courage and it will stay in your heart long after you absorb the last page.

The Trip to Echo Spring

Maybe Mary’s scandalising excessive-alcohol scenes in Everyone Brave stand out more in retrospect because after reading that I read Olivia Laing’s The Trip to Echo Spring: On writers and drinking (Canongate, 2013). – Which brings me to the notion of drinking as self-medication for coping with harsh reality, an antidote to having our souls crushed by whatever ghastly things our society is putting us through at the time.

Continue Reading Remedies for a crushed soul: Chris Cleave’s novels and some uplifting non-fiction…

Catrina Davies. Homesick: Why I live in a shed

February 27, 2022 at 8:32 am | Posted in capitalism, Catrina Davies, Common Good, Democracy, Inequality - Australia, sustainable living | 2 Comments
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Did you know that the average life expectancy of a homeless woman in Britain is forty three? The author of this profound and lyrical book considers herself lucky because she is not one of them, or not yet, because she’s free, not one of the 28 million refugees and asylum seekers ‘hoping for sanctuary in hostile countries like mine’ and she isn’t one of the ’65 million forced out of their home by war or famine or persecution.’ (p. 30)

…if food prices had risen as fast as house prices in the last two decades, a chicken would cost £51 (or in London £100).

Teetering on the brink of homelessness herself, Davies explains how she came to camp and later put down roots in the long-disused old shed where her dad used to work.

Continue Reading Catrina Davies. Homesick: Why I live in a shed…

Gently altering the world – the arts

March 30, 2020 at 11:24 pm | Posted in art, arts and health, Common Good, creativity, humour, humour as medicine, rural Ireland, Stand-up comedy - Australian, stress management, value of the arts, writers' health | 5 Comments
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Returning from a writing residency in Cill Rialaig, in Ireland’s County Kerry – – it was weird to be back yet not be able to hop on my bike and see friends, go to tango lessons, films, cafés and libraries or walk around the lake.

I watched that ingenious ABC program You Can’t Ask That and this time it was on nudists. I thought they would just answer the questions in their clothes.

But no – there they were, all shapes and sizes, in the nude. It reminded me of an unusual art exhibition I heard about in Cork.

Near Kilkenny I stayed a week at the fabulous Shankill Castle – – home of painter Elizabeth Cope and her husband Geoffrey. I have one of her beautiful paintings, pictured above. You can see her work here – she does landscapes, still lifes and portraits. She had an exhibition in Cork of only her nudes. A group of nudists asked if they could view the exhibition in the nude. The gallery said yes. I suppose it wasn’t winter. Continue Reading Gently altering the world – the arts…

Summer books and summer heat

January 21, 2019 at 2:21 am | Posted in capitalism, Common Good, Democracy, libraries, social capital | Leave a comment
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The cover of ‘Mistakes Were Made, But Not by Me!’

After finishing the rewrites of my novel just before Christmas it’s been an orgy of reading. Among recent books that have impressed me are Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean; Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson; and D.B.C. Pierre’s Release the Bats. There’s also beautiful, strong writing in another of Elizabeth Harrower’s trenchant, insightful and bleak novels about relationships, In Certain Circles. But I’ll focus on the three non-fiction books here.

Democracy in Chains

Democracy in Chains: The deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America (Viking, 2018) tells the story behind the subversion of democracy in the United States, a story of dark money and radical right-wing politics, and how ‘liberty’ came to mean liberty for the rich few to concentrate vast wealth and deny basic fairness and rights to the majority. And it all started with racism, back in the 1950s. I can’t hope to summarise it adequately in such a short space but it’s a mesmerising book, understated in tone and jaw-dropping in its implications.

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Tenderly caressing sentences

June 13, 2018 at 8:22 am | Posted in Common Good, david gillespie, John Clanchy, K.a. Nelson, Poetry books, psychopaths, Short stories | 1 Comment
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Three favourite books

I’m always driven by curiosity and apart from work these past few weeks I’ve been spreading my brain too thinly across a vast variety of stimulating books. In the time it takes to write a blog I could have read another book or two. With so many fascinating books piled up – and some jumping up and down, clamouring ‘Pick me! Pick me!’ because they’d be due back at the library soon – I just continued to read my way through the pile in my spare time instead of writing blog posts.

But no regrets and I’m in the Slow Blogging camp (after being one for some time, I discovered that there is actually a formal association for Slow Bloggers – see ). So I make no apologies and below I reflect on the three best of my recently read books, each of which deserves its own post: K. A. Nelson’s Inlandia (Recent Work Press, 2018); John Clanchy’s Six (Finlay Lloyd, 2014, and a La Muse Books E-book); and David Gillespie’s Taming Toxic People (Macmillan, 2017).

Inlandia by K. A. Nelson

‘Caress your sentence tenderly: it will end by smiling at you.’

Continue Reading Tenderly caressing sentences…

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