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.