Thursday, March 25, 2010

Recent Reads - March 2010

Hitler by Ian Kershaw
Or how an art-school reject became a demagogue. It's very good on the early deadbeat days in Munich and Vienna and on the political chicanery prior to the Second World War. He was clearly asexual and seemed to get his orgasms from public speaking. It's still a mystery to me how he went from sad sack to beer hall orator to omnipotent leader. The will to power I suppose. Kershaw does his best to trace this route but it remains baffling. You can see the gradual progression in Stalin's rise but with Hitler there seems to be these massive leaps.

Love of the World by John McGahern
This collection of essays and reviews is a pure unadulterated delight from start to finish. Unlike the occasionally esoteric and acidulous Banville, McGahern keeps it direct and simple. And his judgements are more generous. His piece on the little known Patrick Swift is a gem and there's also a nice nod towards the great Edmund Wilson. It's not all literary, there are amiable rural reflections and some rueful comments on the state of the nation - the arrogance of the philistines in office. The writing is peerless and pellucid throughout. Buy it. Keep it by your bed.

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
Some excellent scene setting but the conclusion was a let down.

Letters of T. S. Eliot
For dipping into. A few surprises. He could be quite scatological in his exchanges with Ezra Pound, in marked contrast to the extreme formality of his letters to family and publishers. Also, these letters show vividly the health problems of his first wife and of his deep concern for her - contrary to what some biographies suggest. He also had to grub about for money for a lengthy period before he achieved financial security.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Yea, yea, very worthy. Convincing view of Thomas Cromwell from the inside and very sound on period detail - especially food and domestic stuff. I liked the alternative view of Thomas More and the machinations of Anne Boleyn and the suave Wolsey and all the court intrigue. It's a rollicking read. However, Henry VIII remained vague and peripheral and I would have liked to have seen Cromwell's comeuppance. Maybe that's the sequel.

Columbine by Dave Cullen
Fine piece of reportage on the US school shootings. The initial plan was for bombs as well as guns but the bombs failed to detonate saving hundreds of lives. The book looks closely at the families of the two killers and finds little to suggest they were responsible for spawning monsters. One of the two was clearly a sociopath and the other a weak-willed follower. It still amazes me how blithely they viewed the prospect of their own deaths. They went into it knowing that they couldn't survive.

Thoughts out of Season - March 2010

I salute the person who came up with the Hell in Mirren headline after those Celtic sad sacks got hammered last night by St. Mirren in that great irrelevancy the Scottish Premiership. A headline that surpassed the event it described.

The Irish rugby teams defeat last Saturday was primarily a tactical one - Kidney failed us for once. He wasn't helped of course by Sexton's kicking failures or by Rory Best's public nervous breakdown, but he presided impotently over a team superior in almost every position that should have won easily. The Scots had a limited game plan - gain territorial position by Parks kicking on the right and Southwell kicking on the left. Then wait for Kaplan to give a penalty which he invariably did. Sexton's penalty misses sowed the seeds of doubt and the scrum and the lineout were a shambles. He should have brought on Buckley, Cullen and Cronin with 15 minutes to go. But instead he adopted a Mr. Micawber approach and inevitably nothing turned up. Mostly in rugby the best team wins. This was a sad exception.

For those of a cynical bent, Cheltenham was a pure delight. Binocular won the Champion Hurdle in fine style at the handsome price of 9-1 after been declared a non-runner a couple of weeks before the race. A few wide boys on the betting exchanges laid him at around 900-1, ostensibly taking advantage of those who hadn't heard or trusted the news. After he suddenly became fit again and romped home you might have expected some recriminations from the British Racing Press (or even the craven Irish hacks). After all we can recall the abuse visited on Jim Bolger after New Approach won the Derby after being declared a doubtful runner. Binocular's trainer is the incorrigibly amiable Nicky Henderson, whereas Bolger is a prickly perfectionist who doesn't suffer fools gladly.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

A Gentle Beating in Killester

It's good to get out on a fine Sunday afternoon. A DART from Dalkey to Killister and a 10-minute walk brought me to Parnell Park and an opportunity to see the thoroughbreds of Tipp open their National Hurling League campaign against Dublin. It's a nice intimate ground and you are right on top of the action. How young the players look and how slight compared to the rugby guys - although Paul Curran looks physically equipped to play number 8 on any rugby team. Now that helmets are compulsory it's very hard to know who's who although the numbers help if you have a programme.

It's clear from early on that Dublin are up for this game and that Tipp see it as a stroll in the park. The result is an easy win for Dublin. Nicky English is sitting directly behind me so I am treated to a rueful commentary on the proceedings. He's not getting very excited about things though so I expect that Tipp will improve from this first run. I have to absorb the abuse of my two Dublin buddies on the long journey back to Killiney. It's a long way to September.