The “golden age” of detective fiction, which began roughly with Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles, occupied the years between the first and second World Wars – anything but a golden age for Britain, and one in which British society was undergoing massive and lasting changes. The experience of total war, which moved women into the munitions factories, and domestic servants into the army, caused serious questioning of the established social order. The assumed codes of deference and conduct never quite recovered. Country estates were shut up or sold, and the rural economy was destabilised by wage increases after the labourers returned from the front, or didn’t. Crime fiction, however, was busy denying that anything had changed, keeping the experience of death safely within rational and domestic confines where it could be explained away.
In early June, the best time in Rome is dawn. A little after first light the song of a neighbor blackbird wakes me in our little fifth-floor flat on the Via Urbana. I dream for a few minutes but again the blackbird wakes me and I get up. I walk to the window. High above the rooftops the swallows are already darting, soaring, plunging, on their morning quest for insects. A plump big seagull flies over, one of the many that have invaded Rome skies in recent years. I manage to shave and dress without waking my wife, and I walk down the stairs and out into our street.
In an age when ad agencies regularly apply “revolutionary” to new car models and digital toys, it is wise for the rest of us to avoid the word, but Peter Ward’s Out of Thin Air comes as close to meriting the label as anything I’ve seen of late. Paleontology does involve a lot of detail work, from tiny picks and toothbrushes to radioactive dating; however, some details may not only inform but overturn and reinvent the much bigger picture.
The relationship between Peter and his parents is given more space, but this could also have been examined more closely. Picoult appears to hold back from following up on the intriguing world she creates. Relating the role of parents in raising a child who ends up being a murderer is welcome, particularly when we are told Peter’s father lectures on the economics of happiness. Irony is heaped on irony with the descriptions of Peter’s mother, Lacy, as she is a midwife (and deemed knowledgeable on parenting) and is also seen to be as kind as she is inept in her understanding of her son.
Sometimes, feeling different is the root of feeling lonely. Ezra Jack Keats’ whimsical Regards To The Man In The Moon chronicles Louie’s having to tell his new stepfather, Barney, that he’s being teased because Barney is a junk man. Barney responds by equipping Louie for a trip to the moon and Louie benefits from Susie’s stepping forward and volunteering to accompany him to the moon.
David and Eleanor’s story is an unremarkable one. But their ordinary disappointments and frustrations are precisely what make the novel memorable. McGregor generates great poignancy by naming each chapter after various fragments of the characters’ lives, a letter, a photograph, an old wooden boat. Like Roddy Doyle, McGregor takes uncelebrated lives and invests them with dignity and depth.
The universe appears to have cheated Rupert Everett. By rights, he belongs to the Edwardian age, the gay with a capital “G” nineties, Oscar Wilde and the pursuit of beauty, art for arts sake, and to hell with propriety.
This is not Labrador. We are fifty miles northeast of Rome and a mile above sea level, climbing Monte Cava in the Central Apennines, on one of our Sunday jaunts with the Club Alpino Italiano, Sezione Roma. Just ahead of me is my wife, Mary Jane, and beyond her I can see Antonello the orthodontist, and beyond him Alessandro, a banker on weekdays but today our Leader.
…essentially, the book remains a story of British upper classes and the author has seemingly trawled an impressive body of memoirs and biographies so as to bring to life any number of entertaining, if gossipy personal vignettes. For example: “Life without champagne was inconceivable for Winston [Churchill].” “Henry Crust joining Lord Curzon in a nude tennis doubles tennis match against George Wyndham and Wilfrid Blunt.” “[The Earl of Lonsdale]…a man apparently incapable of enjoying a healthy sex life with a member of his own class: he collapsed, dead of a heart attack while in action in his own private brothel.”
He is not much impressed with modernity, rejecting with certitude McDonald’s transfatty fries, the inter-state highway system, television, the decline of literature, and a pernicious militarism that has sponsored the “great American diaspora.”
James Ellroy, Cormac McCarthy and William T. Vollmann have some new company hanging out on their dark, rough, violent block. He’s Craig Davidson and here’s how he tells what he feels and sees…