Some of the books I’ve read over the last while…
Most of my March was taken up with reading Umberto Eco‘s by-now-classic The Name of The Rose. We’re transported to 1327 (where glasses are a novelty) and an Italian monastery. Young German novice Adso and his master William of Baskerville have travelled for a theological conference of sorts. Then the bodies start turning up.
Be warned, the book is quite heavy-going and I have to confess I did skim over the longer passages about the schisms in the church, endless descriptions of altars etc. However, stick with it; it’s a brilliant murder mystery, cleverly turning our perception of the Middle Ages upside down, layering fiction, fact, myth and religion together into one heady stew. Well worth persevering with; it’s a story that lingers long in the memory.
Another powerful story is that of Ireland’s fight for independence. I read The Singing Flame by Ernie O’Malley in March, having read his previous War of Independence memoir On Another Man’s Wound last year. O’Malley was a high ranking IRA commander who led men against the British in large swathes of Ireland. During the Civil War, he fought on the Anti-Treaty side. O’Malley was originally from Co Mayo, but his family moved to Dublin and he spent most of his early life there. His family were ‘castle Catholics’ i.e. they were supportive of the British regime, but O’Malley and his younger brothers became involved in the fight for Irish freedom. Another brother, Frank, was an officer in the British Army, and O’Malley sardonically describes how the pair compared military notes.
Ernie O’Malley was a young medical student during the Easter Rising and his republican consciousness was raised by this event. It’s absolutely fascinating to read a first-hand account of this event, and others like the capture of the Four Courts; events, which for many, remain dryly resting in the history book. From a social history point of view too it’s hugely enlightening. O’Malley writes beautifully of his experiences in rural Ireland and the living conditions and social mores of the 1920s. He also has an artist’s eye for nature, something which On Another Man’s Wound was criticised for at the time. It’s also highly interesting for technically minded people to observe how quickly technology moved on in a mere year; in the first book he is crossing Connacht on foot, by the second he is driving everywhere. Highly recommended, especially for the Leaving Cert history student in your life.
Isabelle Allende is a renowned Chilean author who writes sweeping epics. Island Beneath the Sea follows the life of Tété, a woman who has been born in slavery on the island of Haiti. It covers a wide range of historical events, including the Haitian slave rising of 1791 and the Louisiana Purchase. However, while absorbing, the book does drag in places and there is quite a lot of “tell, don’t show” in there. However, Allende sure can write and you can’t help getting involved in the characters and their lives.
The latest James Bond film, Skyfall, was incredibly entertaining. So I decided to go back and read the book that started it all, Ian Fleming‘s Casino Royale. Here’s a severe warning for anyone with a sentiment of feminist feeling; this book will offend you. Even by the standards of 1953, Fleming is sexist. However, moving past all the misogyny, Casino Royale is a taut thriller. The 2006 film, Daniel Craig’s debut, is probably one of the most faithful to the novels, and if you’ve seen the movie, you know what’s going to happen here. Nevertheless, the final shock is hard-hitting- and it’s amazing the torture scene got past the censors. Fleming is also gifted at taking the reader right into the place he’s describing. I could almost feel the spray of the sea and the southern French sunshine on my face- something much needed in a truly miserable March.
Til next month!