Regular reviewers choose the best — and most overrated — books of 2018
Short stories seem to fare better in the US than the UK, and among this year’s rich crop, Deborah Eisenberg’s Your Duck is My Duck (Ecco, £20.70) is outstanding.
Everything about Eisenberg’s writing is highly controlled — watchful, well-made — and everything it describes teeters on the verge of chaos or collapse. It makes for a brilliant mixture of a book — at once compact and capacious, eerily familiar and extremely strange.
One of my favourite authors is Laura Thompson. Her biographies of sundry Mitfords, of Agatha Christie and Lord Lucan (recently revised in the light of the unpleasant Countess’s demise) are brilliant and forensic. This year she published a memoir of her grandmother, The Last Landlady (Unbound, £16.99), which is a typically eclectic mix of social history and elegy, ironic comedy and indelible Englishness. It is about the pub as theatre, and like everything else worth cherishing, pubs are closing down — replaced with gender-neutral lavatories, compulsory veganism and virtue-signalling teetotalism.
A Hero for High Times (Cape, £16.99), Ian Marchant’s account of being a wild old hippie with a bucket for a toilet in a copse on the Welsh Marches, made me laugh.
Matthew Sturgis’s biography of Oscar Wilde, Oscar: A Life (Head of Zeus, £25) made me furious. How idiotic to trail this book as putting Richard Ellmann right, when it is full of copycat flourishes. Ellmann, for example, in 1987, called Bosie Douglas ‘totally spoiled, reckless, insolent and, when thwarted, fiercely vindictive’. Sturgis now says Bosie was ‘selfish, spoilt, vain, intemperate, needy and demanding’. It is like a bad translation. Read on…
Islamic groups, leftists and empty-headed multiculturalists did everything they could to foil the publication of Robert Spencer’s new book on the history of jihad. No wonder. With the possible exception of thuggee stranglers, there has never been a religion more devoted to rape, murder and conquest.
The History of Jihad: From Muhammad to ISIS
Bombadier Books 2018
Once upon a time in a primitive land of polytheist idolaters far, far away, an egomaniac zealot with high ambitions hit on a bright idea. On learning of the ancient Jewish prophecy of a Messiah, and the newish Christian communities’ worship of Jesus as the “Chosen One”, he decided to nominate himself as the latest in the line – the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of the Prophets. If the Angel Gabriel could give the name ‘Jesus’ to Mary, why couldn’t Gabriel be recruited to authenticate Muhammad’s pronouncements?
The polytheists who worshipped 360 idols in the Ka’aba of Mecca thought this was fake news and made life difficult for the would-be prophet-poet. In thirteen years he attracted only 150 followers. So he decamped to another town. The Jews of Medina first welcomed him as a protector, but after they heard his story about travelling to Jerusalem and then to Paradise on a winged white horse with a human head, and questioned him on religion, they declared him a phony. Muhammad decided a new business model was needed: conversion by the sword. Beginning as a highwayman raiding passing caravans, he invented a unique rallying cry: “Allahu Akbar!” (My) God is the Greatest! The shout inspired his followers to kill, loot and enslave. It continues to terrify the world 1400 years. later. Read on…
I have always found it curious that some feminists count Jane Austen in the pantheon of feminist heroines. I ‘ve heard it ever since feminism made it to the public arena way back in the 1970s. Her rubbishing of men in the form of Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice and the beautiful exchange between Anne Elliot and Captain Harville in Persuasion are evidence of her anti-patriarchal credentials. These incidents, one was likely to think, prove Jane was just short of calling all males rapists. Perhaps that’s a little overstated. But you get the point.
I thought it strange because Jane was a devout Christian. For feminists of the Marxist sort, Christianity, the standard bearer of the patriarchy, is the deadly enemy of women. The strength of her religious feelings may not hit you in the face in her novels although she shows a distinct partiality towards the clergy despite her hilarious (and devastating) satire of clergyman Mr Collins. But her letters and other documentary evidence show the depths of her religious feelings and the sort of Christianity she subscribed to. More about that in another post.
So it was pleasing to see Vic Sanborn on her website (Jane Austen’s World) acknowledging Jane’s Christian faith in the announcement that ‘a “Praying with Jane” blog tour will begin October 31st’ on her website’. The blog tour ‘will showcase Rachel Dodge’s deeply felt first book, which centres around three prayers Jane Austen wrote’. Rachel Dodge’s book is Praying with Jane: 31 Days through the Prayers of Jane Austen. See Dodge’s website for more information about this spectacular demonstration of Jane Austen’s Christian belief.
I thought it better that I complete the adjustments to The Castle of Heavenly Bliss and In this Vale of Tears immediately. It was a matter of moving chapters either from one to the other, or to the first book which I will begin as soon as I have finished with Tony Abbott and the Times of Revolution. The reorganised editions of The Castle of Heavenly Bliss and In This Vale Tears are now available on Smashwords and Amazon.com.
A REORGANISATION OF THE WINTERBINE SERIES
My original post was a rather complicated explanation of my proposed reorganisation of the Winterbine series. To keep it simple, I will take the backstory out of The Castle of Heavenly Bliss and In This Vale of Tears as the basis for a new novel.
The new novel will be the first book in the series with In This Vale of Tears the second, and The Castle of Heavenly Bliss the third. The chronological sequence would then be right. The fourth book is still in the planning which makes the series a tetralogy.
Book One will develop the early story of Fr van Engelen, his niece Anneke, and Gerda Vrouwendijk with the location of the story in Holland and England (Middelburg, Amsterdam and London). New characters, some Australian, will appear. The period will be from 1946 to 1972. The social background will be the 1960s student revolution. The themes of Gnosticism and the Goddess will be established. There will be no change to the story although I will make small adjustments in The Castle of Heavenly Bliss. This first book, with the provisional title A Time of Distress (from Luke 21), will provide the groundwork for the following three books.
I will begin writing Book One in January 2019 after I have finished with Tony Abbott: The Times of Revolution. Stay alert for developments.
I have just returned from a five week holiday at Burleigh Heads on Queensland’s Gold Coast. It’s a terrific place for a holiday. It’s also a great place for writing inspiration. We had a unit on the headland overlooking the surf breaking against the rocks. Further along was the beach that stretches mile or so to Little Burleigh.
I rose early, listen to the news, and began writing by 8 am. At 10 am my wife and I listened to the Dutch news on SBS. Then we went for a 45 minute walk along the beach after which I continued writing. Each time I looked up there was the rocks, the blue water, the blue sky, and sometimes the boardriders on their waves. The scene reminded me of my visit to Dickens’s house at Broadstairs. He had a writing alcove on the staircase landing which overlooked the sea – The English Channel. Below are some photos of Burleigh in 2015 and 1957.
I have finished the first major revision of Tony Abbott and the Times of Revolution. I’ve added two more chapters to the first draft. Shortly I will begin my second intense revision using the two editing programs Grammarly and ProWritingAid, both of which I can recommend. It will take another six weeks to bring the manuscript to publishing stage. I will be looking for a publisher.
Australian politics is full of well known figures that resemble characters from Jane Austen novels, notes Paul Brunton, emeritus curator of the State Library of NSW.
Be they the “pompous, the stupid, the self-serving, the snobbish, the superficial and less often the sensible and altruistic”.
It is Austen’s ability to create characters recognisable in contemporary society – to “dissect human nature with the skill of a surgeon” – that marks her genius, says Brunton, and one reason among many to observe the 200th anniversary of the author’s death this Tuesday.
While the cause of Austen’s untimely death in Winchester, July 18, 1817, is disputed, a series of public events have been planned to celebrate the life and works of the novelist who wrote three classics of English literature before the age of 25. Read on…
A review of Jane Austen and the State of the Nation by Laura Boyle
Jane Austen is universally acknowledged as an excellent writer with a fine grasp of the human condition. Her ever increasing number of fans, her inclusion in nearly every list of worthy writers and English Literature syllabi, her marketability and timeless appeal have created what might be called an international mania. Many would attribute her success to her wit and way with words, others to the age old stories of love and romance that she tells. It seems, however, as if there was more, much more, just beneath the surface: undertones and even overt messages that Jane Austen’s readers would have seen, but which are, for the most part, lost to today’s readers. After all, as Jane herself (in the guise of omniscient narrator) explains in Northanger Abbey:
“Oh! It is only a novel!…It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.”
I have, over the past few months, had the great privilege of first hearing and then reading the works of celebrated Austen scholar and international speaker, Dr. Sheryl Craig. The talk she addressed to our JASNA gathering in November, entitled “So Ended a Marriage”, looked at Mansfield Park in light of the divorce and custody laws current during Jane Austen’s day. Drawing from actual divorce transcripts, she carefully laid out a plausible defense for Austen’s use of the novel as political statement about the rights of women and their treatment as property. An abridged version of this talk can be found on Sarah Emsley’s Mansfield Park site, and the entirety has been printed in JASNA’s Persuasions #36. Read on…