Time for Reading and Writing and Sharing and Being treated for Breast Cancer

One of the things I have found while I am undergoing my treatment for breast cancer is that as I have less energy to do physical exercise or physical work, I am finding myself able to indulge in other interests. I find I am able to do more reading and writing. I enjoy this.

One of the books I read recently was “In The Dark” by Mark Billingham.  The book is reviewed here: https://bookreviewstoday.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/in-the-dark-by-mark-billingham/

On a rainy city night, a handgun is fired at random. A struck car swerves and plows into a bus stop, killing an unsuspecting bystander. In an explosive instant, a cold-blooded gang initiation ends one life and forever changes three others: the desperate teenager who pulled the trigger. A policewoman is on maternity leave and an aging is gangster plotting a terrifying revenge. The truth about the shocking incident will tie them all together in a lethal blood knot. And nothing is what it seems.

In the Dark” is the most powerful and unflinching crime novel yet from the remarkable Mark Billingham–a gripping journey into the modern urban darkness where violence is both indiscriminate and meticulously planned, and youth gangs take on established criminals for rule of the streets.

In a completely different vein is the novel by Jane Green ” Second Chance“. That book is reviewed here: https://bookreviewstoday.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/second-chance-by-jane-green/. Jane Green has become a nationally bestselling author with legions of fans through her novels about the true-life dilemmas of real women, their relationships, their careers, their loves, their triumphs and disappointments. In her latest book, Green tells the story of a group of people who haven’t seen each other since they were best friends at school. When one of them dies in a terrible tragedy, the reunited friends work through their grief together and find that each of their lives is impacted in ways they could have never foreseen. Warm, witty, and as wise as ever, this is a story of friendship, of family, and of life coming full circle.

I also managed to contribute work to the blog wkwriters.wordpress.com. Here is an example.

Jubilee  

So many years you’ve worked in a job

You never sought to do it did you, Ma’am?

But your Uncle married Wallis Simpson

It was then so unavoidable: so set

You would be Queen: you were: you are now

Those 60 years have passed, how fast they flew

With you upon the throne you saw the change

You see the change and yet you rise above

Consistent in a land you love, a land you serve

Duty, dignity, experience still

Few would trade you places if they could, you know

None could hope to do your job so well.

I also read the book promoted by my book group.  

The first novel by Peter Ho Davies is “The Welsh Girl“. It is reviewed here: https://bookreviewstoday.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/the-welsh-girl…eter-ho-davies/. The Welsh Girl is set in 1944, as World War II grinds through its final year. But of course his characters don’t know that they are within sight of the finishing-post. Instead, they inhabit the confusions of the present tense. Rotheram, a German Jewish refugee, came to Britain in 1936 and now works as a translator for Political Intelligence. Seventeen-year-old Esther, daughter of a Welsh shepherd, lives in a remote village where war impinges in the form of evacuees and English sappers building a prisoner-of-war camp. Karsten, a captured German naval infantryman, will become one of the first prisoners in the new camp.

The Welsh Girl is preoccupied with ideas of identity, belonging and alienation. Ho Davies explores the ways in which war ruptures the relationship between a human being and the place (or country) that is called home. Some forms of belonging are obvious as the novel begins to weave its strands. The sheep on the Welsh hills know their territory and don’t stray from it. This sense of belonging – cynefin – is passed on down the female line, from the ewes to the ewe-lambs, because the ram lambs are sent for slaughter. If the herd loses contact with its territory, it cannot thrive. This hard fact becomes a metaphor throughout the novel. It may be over-used, but it remains potent. Esther, who has lost her mother and is a little lost within her own life, will eventually give birth to an identity which allows her to reconnect, in her own way, with home and origins.

Language is a key marker of belonging in this fictional village. Certain thoughts and ideas belong within Welsh, resisting translation because they embody what is specific to that culture. Ho Davies describes his fictional setting as “a nationalist village, passionately so. It’s what holds the place together, like a cracked and glued china teapot.” However his treatment of the very complex and controversial subject of Welsh nationalist attitudes to the war is somewhat bland. Characters take an overview of their situation, and describe their feelings and thoughts to themselves in a way which robs these of life. Esther, for example, hears Churchill’s speech revealing the invasion of France, and reflects that “most of the locals are as filled with excitement as she is, even if they’re reluctant to admit it.” It seems very unlikely that a girl of 17 would think of the friends and family with whom she’s grown up as “the locals”.

Ho Davies is much more assured in his handling of characters who are uprooted. Rotheram, for example, has gone through a long battle over both his Germanness and his Jewishness. It is only towards the end of the novel that his Jewishness becomes real to him, because he has made his own bridge between what other people say he is, and where he feels he can belong. Karsten, like all the other prisoners, is stripped of the identity – or sustaining fantasy – supplied by Nazism. Already, however, a different fantasy is supplanting it: the prisoners begin to consider themselves both innocent and victimised, subtly entitled to resentment and furious when they are confronted with film of the liberation of Belsen. Esther, coerced into sex by her English sapper boyfriend, has to lie about what really happened for the rest of her life. Within this lie, the novel seems to argue that Esther finds a deeper truth which links her to her dead mother, and enables her to claim back her own territory.

The Welsh Girl handles its complex thematic structure with secure craft, intelligence and sense of direction. The introduction of a major historical figure into this fictional world may shake the scenery, but the novel recovers.

Rotheram is the most subtly-drawn and interesting character in the book. This may be because Ho Davies has not decided the outcome of his story as firmly as he appears to have done with Esther and Karsten, but has treated Rotheram with some of the uncertainty and passion which brings a character to life. In his characterisation of Esther, there is distance.

Ho Davies has already earned a reputation as a short-story writer, but that skill may not make it easier to risk the excess, embarrassment and commitment of a book which takes its author way beyond where he expected to find himself. Nevertheless, The Welsh Girl is good enough to suggest that he may become an impressive novelist once he is into his stride.

Everything has advantages and disadvantages. One of the few advantages of having breast cancer is that I have time to catch up with my reading, writing reviews of the books and even some poetry and sharing it all with you.

Valerie Penny

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