A Start In Life by Alan Sillitoe

A Start In LifeA Start In Life by Alan Sillitoe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’d never read any Sillitoe before because I had this idea that he was dour, northern, kitchen-sinky and just not for me. I was wrong. Our amoral “hero” features in a picaresque series of events, peopled by colourful characters into whom we just keep on bumping in unlikely coincidences and ludicrous situations. It’s a bumpy ride.
Sillitoe is a fantastic technical writer who always has the right words and expressions at his command. The book shows its age in its female characters who are always complicit in their own dreadful mistreatment, but the book piles along and before I knew it it had gone. Good stuff.

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Book Review.

The Astronomer & the Witch: Johannes Kepler's Fight for His MotherThe Astronomer & the Witch: Johannes Kepler’s Fight for His Mother by Ulinka Rublack

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A intriguing book. It sat on my Amazon wish-list from the time I first read about it until I had to admit defeat and buy it myself. It covers topics about which I knew little: Johannes Kepler & the time and atmosphere in which he lived. It isn’t a study of Kepler’s work: for that you have to look elsewhere – to begin with, try the BBC In Our Time episode about him.

It is a story of the world poised between what we think of as medieval superstition and the era of scientific discovery, a time when discovery is still in the service of and constrained by religion and in which inconvenient old ladies can be subject to barbaric treatment, but in which a select few begin to see past that into a rational, humanistic future and lose patience with the old ways. Kepler is caught in the middle, an accomplished astronomer and mathematician who has to set aside his work to save his own mother from torture and the stake.

The visitor to a calm, ordered, quiet old German town today, with its quaint painted Rathaus and cobbles is unlikely to feel that ancient atmosphere of suspicion and sudden lawless terror that was once there, and which is brought out well, if understatedly, in this book:

“Katherina had guarded her attractive daughter Margaretha against young lads who had sometimes ‘pushed in the door of her house [to gain access to] the daughter.'”.


I need only add that the (hardback) book is a pleasure to hold, contains many pertinent illustrations and, er, smells really nice!

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Book Review

Jane Austen, the Secret RadicalJane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found it fascinating. Based on deep reading of the texts and the author’s own and others’ research we find there is a good deal more to the works of Jane Austen than meets the eye. Perhaps some of the theories are a bit of a stretch but everything here throws new light.

Also contains biographical information, showing that biographies of Austen quickly run to ‘might-haves’ and ‘maybes’ to fill their page-count.

Recommended to all Jane Austen readers.

*I just gave an actual Austen book 5 stars: I’m sure Ms Kelly won’t begrudge being given one fewer!

Note: since I wrote this a gent called Arnie (@janeaustencode, http://sharpelvessociety.blogspot.co.uk) has been in touch, alleging, at the very least, that Helena Kelly may have borrowed some of his thoughts and writings for this book without giving him any credit. This little blog hardly seems the place to start a fight but if if the want to have a snarl at each other comments are enabled below!

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Jayne Mansfield Park

I just thought of a way of rewriting Mansfield Park in which our heroine is, instead of being a breakable, probably consumptive, mistreated valetudinarian type, a heartily healthy and unfeasibly pneumatic blonde bombshell.

Fanny Price

It needs some fleshing out (hur hur). I can’t help thinking that Mrs Norris, who is, surprisingly, not a cat but an aunt, might have had something interesting to say and Sir Thomas would have crept up to the East Room for a chat a good while sooner.

Instead of marrying that pill Edmund at the end, Fanny probably goes off with Henry Crawford in his borrowed BMW and is decapitated on the A509 Wellingborough bypass.

Yep, I’ve got this.