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Possible Blogging Hiatus

Things may be sparse around here for a while. The good lady’s blog friend from the USA, Peggy of Peggy Ann’s Post and whose Read Scotland 2014 Challenge I signed up for last year, has arrived for her long awaited holiday in Scotland.

As a result we will be busy showing her all the sights, or at least those sights not too far flung from Son of the Rock Acres. Time for blogging may be limited.

Surviving by Allan Massie

Vagabond Voices, 2009, 208p.

Surviving cover

This is the second book I’ve read this year eligible for the Read Scotland 2014 Challenge and the second not set in Scotland. The author has a large back catalogue some of them set in Scotland in various historical eras up to the present but he has also delved into the lives of ex-Nazis in South America, the legacy of the Vichy regime and later twentieth century Italian politics in addition to writing a series of very good novels on the lives of Roman Emperors.

Surviving takes place in modern(ish) Rome. It is undated but the currency being used is the lira which would set it before Italy adopted the Euro in 2002. The story unfolds over fifty short chapters, though since each is indicated by a Roman numeral in bold that should be L chapters.

A group of ex-pat Britons is just about surviving being alcoholics – with a few lapses – via their attendance at AA meetings. A new member, writer Tom Durward, – whose surname surely signals a Walter Scott connection – has guilty feelings due to his orphaned nephew, Jamie (entrusted to his care,) having drowned himself at boarding school years ago. Stephen Mallany spectacularly drops off the wagon just after the meeting where Durward introduces himself.

The web of relationships becomes further disturbed when Gary Kelly, a man acquitted of murder back in Britain, is taken into her home by Kate Sturzo. The book takes a strange turn indeed when the barrister who defended him, Reynard Yallett, also arrives in Rome. The consequences involve murder but the novel reads nothing like a detective story.

There are multifarous characters, perhaps too many. That there should be such neat connections between some of them stretches believability a bit but Massie’s writing is smooth and accomplished even if he puts into the mouth of one of them the sentence, “We make for ourselves impressions of people and if they act in a way that doesn’t fit that impression we say they’re acting out of character as if they were actors condemned to be typecast,” which is a wonderful get out of jail free card for any author to trot out. He also gives us a piece of metafictional trickery towards the end as Durward muses about writing the whole story up as a novel.

What kind of novel Surviving is, is not easy to pigeonhole. It’s worth a look though.

Not the End of the World by Christopher Brookmyre

Abacus, 2009, 388p.

Not the most profound book with which to start my Read Scotland Challenge; not typical Brookmyre either as it’s set in California. First published in 1998, it imagines a millenarian run up to the end of the century.

LAPD cop Larry Freeman has a strange disappearance or four to investigate, photographer – and Motherwell supporter – Stephen Kennedy is in town to cover the American Feature Film Marketing Board meeting and take the pics for an interview with erstwhile porn actress Madeleine Witherson (the daughter of a US Senator,) failed US Presidential candidate and evangelical preacher Luther St John is whipping up the faithful for the new millennium.

St John has dubbed Witherson “The Whore of Babylon,” a symbol of the moral degradation into which he regards the US to have fallen, stirred up by the film and television industry. He has also predicted God will send a tidal wave to inundate greater Los Angeles in early 1999 as a signal of His wrath.

As to the plot, the Gazes Also, a boat belonging to the California Oceanic Research Institute, has been found crewless, a latter day Mary Celeste. Four scientists are missing. Another, Sandra Biscayne, was murdered several months before. St John sponsored both their projects. It’s not difficult to join the dots…. In the meantime religious nut-job Daniel Corby has plans of his own to sway the godless from their wicked ways. Plans which involve murder and human (self)-sacrifice. It’s a Brookmyre novel, there’s bound to be mayhem in it somewhere.

It’s well enough constructed, if not difficult to second guess, and Brookmyre carries us along admirably. He does feel the need to fill in characters’ back stories at considerable length, though, providing psychological reasons for them being the way they are, which is a little at odds with the overall thriller nature. He also manages to insert into the narrative a description of the eruption of Thera, the volcano whose explosion and subsequent tsunami destroyed the Minoan civilisation.

Religious fundamentalists (of whatever stripe) are easy targets, but none the less deserving of censure. None of them seem willing to live and let live. All of them are in the business of justifying their desire to control the behaviour – and thoughts – of others. Brookmyre doesn’t spare them.

There aren’t quite as many jokes as in a more typical Brookmyre novel and there isn’t a great deal of his usual Scots vernacular, though Kennedy has some good lines.

A mildly diverting, relatively undemanding read, even if I did spot two continuity errors. If you’re a fundamentalist it isn’t for you though.

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