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That is definitely one to be avoided Hayley

Burley Postbox Theft by Nicola Barker

This is an epistolary novel of sorts. It is set in Yorkshire in a village near Ilkley, up in the moors. The local post box has been broken into and some letters stolen. The book starts with a local police sergeant writing to a local police constable, enclosing the letters, 26 of them and asking him to investigate. The book then consists of the letters themselves, some of them quite long. It ends with a couple of other letters which give alternate explanations of the whole thing. It is set around 2007/8. In this day of e-mails I’m not sure you could write this again.

The whole throws light on an array of typical village characters, many of whom are obsessive, eccentric and really rather disturbing. If you remember the recent headlining Handforth Parish Council you will get a flavour. This is where the book stands or falls.  Over the course of the novel you build up a picture of the community and some characters recur. There is a strong comic element to it and a great deal of caricature which doesn’t always work and becomes rather tedious. There is a very long letter about the problems of dogshit in the village by a very pernickety writer. Way too long.

There are some amusing asides, like the member of the Burley Cross Toilet Watch (devoted to ensuring the local gay community can’t misuse toilets) managing to get himself arrested for what he is guarding against. There is a promises auction that goes horribly wrong. Sometimes it moves into Archers territory (A British rural radio soap), sometimes it is more League of Gentlemen, but mostly it didn’t work for me. A couple of them I was rather uncomfortable with, a few were mildly amusing. I seem to be having a poor run of books at the moment!

5 out of 10

Starting Oh Happy Day by Carmen Calil

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On 10/04/2021 at 5:38 PM, Books do furnish a room said:

I seem to be having a poor run of books at the moment!

 

On 10/04/2021 at 5:38 PM, Books do furnish a room said:

Starting Oh Happy Day by Carmen Calil

I hope this one breaks the trend for you!

 

I generally really like epistolary novels so I was intrigued by this review but I don't think I'll be rushing out to buy it now!

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Sadly, I wouldn't Hayley

Rite Out of Time: A Study of the Churching of Women and its Survival in the Church of England in the Twentieth Century

This is a study of what is known as “The Churching of Women”. A service in the Book of Common Prayer with roots back in the Old Testament, Judaism and Hellenic traditions. It is a ceremony which takes place after childbirth originally intended as a form of purification (going back to the nonsense that sex is essentially sinful and there is need of purification for women: not men of course). It was also linked of course to menstruation. Views within the Church changed and developed and ceremony in many quarters became one of thanksgiving. Puritan women had a problem with the rite in the seventeenth century and the rite was abolished whilst Britain was a republic, only to be reintroduced with the Book of Common Prayer. It has more or less died out now and over the twentieth century many clergy gradually resisted doing it.

This study looks at the twentieth century history of churching by looking at records in three areas of England: Berkshire, Staffordshire and the Southwark diocese in London. Houlbrooke looks at parish records, clergy records, diocesan visitation and some records of what women themselves felt when it was recorded. There were also some contemporary interviews with older women looking back on how the rite was used. There is a brief history of its use in England and a good deal of examination of the records and charting of its decline.

I was a priest in the Church of England in the late 1980s and I remember women asking for this ceremony. The response when I asked why was that “my mother and grandmother won’t let me back in their houses until I’ve been done.” There was little sense of what the ceremony was for, just that it was something to be done to get back to normal life. It tended to be a tradition running through generations of women. Thankfully it really has gone now with changes in society and religion.

This study is informative but lacks any real analytical edge. There is a good deal of what, how and when but very little why. It’s easy to get bogged down in all the statistics!

5 and a half out of 10

Starting Black and British: A forgotten history by David Olusoga

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The Anarchy: The relentless rise of the East India Company by William Dalrymple

I think it is important to be clear what this account is not. It is not a history or India, nor is it a history of the Raj. It is not a complete history of the East India Company. It pretty much ends in about 1803, there is nothing on the first war of independence in 1857. What this actually does is chart the growth of the East India Company from its founding to the point where it gained ascendancy in the subcontinent.

This is a very different telling of that tale than the one in British history books in the last century, as Dalrymple says:

“The Company’s conquest of India almost certainly remains the supreme act of corporate violence in world history.”

The usual imperial heroes (Clive, Hastings, the Wellesley brothers etc) are shown for what they really are. Clive certainly was a thug and a bully and it still remains a scandal that all of his plunder and loot from India remain at Powis Castle: even though it is now in the ownership of the National Trust.

Of course the EIC was one of a number of competing companies from Europe. There were similar companies from France, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Sweden and so on. After its inception it was by no means the strongest and the French and Portuguese companies were more entrenched in India. Of course there were also other “foreign powers” in India over the course of this account. For example the Afghans and Nadir Shah of Persia.

The complex politics of India itself is addressed and, of course there are ongoing debates here about the various roles of the Mughals and Marathas. Dalrymple provides a character driven account, but doesn’t always enter the ongoing historical debates like the interpretation of what happened after the death of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb; was there decline and chaos or rather a delineation into tiers of powers. Dalrymple draws together many complex strands in this history and he manages to explode many of the myths about the rise of the Company. By the late eighteenth century:

“One in three British men in India were co-habiting with Indian women and there were believed to be more than 11 000 Anglo-Indians in the three Presidency towns. Now Cornwallis brought in a whole raft of unembarrassedly racist legislation aimed at excluding the children of British men who had Indian wives … from employment by the company.”

Students of American history will remember Cornwallis, and yes he turns up in India as well!

This is a well written account, but I think there are gaps and some lack of contextualisation. It should though perform the function of exploding some of the lingering Imperialist myths in Britain about the Empire and India. This is more British history and Dalrymple does provide a good amount of economic facts to show how India was plundered. I would have liked more analysis of the impact on the British economy and the Industrial Revolution.

 As to the effect on India: as Mughal historian Fakir Khair ud-Din Illahabadi put it, “the once peaceful realm of India became the abode of Anarchy”.

7 and a half out of 10

Starting Pornography by Andrea Dworkin

 

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Thanks for the review, I’ve got a copy of The Honourable Company by John Keay to read which is on a similar subject but seems to end around sometime in the 1830’s. 

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It's a pleasure Brian

The Glass House by Monique Charlesworth

I bought this from a second hand shop, partly because I had never heard of the book or the author. It is set in Hamburg in the 1970s and is (apparently) a novel about “revenge, desire, death and searing need”! Well, it wasn’t quite as bad as that sounds. It has its roots in the devastation following the war where Ludwig Levenstein starts to help orphan boys who live on the streets. He helps to house and feed them and in return they do odd jobs for him. There are other strings as well, mainly implied. Cut to the early 70s and Victor is one of Ludwig’s protégés who has made good and is a partner in an import export business: wealthy and well respected. There is quite a significant cast of other characters, including Johanna, twenty years old and a former fiancé of Victor, puzzled by his sudden breaking off of the engagement. Ludwig discovers Victor has made good and so begins a rather intricate plot, which leads to a somewhat unclear ending.

Most of the characters are fairly forgettable, as is the novel. So, if you find a second hand book whose title and author are unknown to you: maybe check before you purchase  

5 out of 10

Starting Merle and other stories by Paule Marshall

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Women of Sand and Myrrh by Hana Al-Shaykh

 

This novel is set in an unnamed desert state (looking suspiciously like Saudi Arabia). It examines the lives of four women, telling its tale from each of their points of view. There is Suha, a Lebanese woman, who has moved with her husband and son because of his new job. Nur has led a life of privilege. Suzanne is American and is also in the country because of her husband’s job and is discontented with her lot. Tamr wants to be independent and to get an education. The themes that are explored are fundamental and include feminism, sexual desire and sexuality, patriarchy, religious fundamentalism, materialism, culture and the complexities of power.

The reader is quickly drawn into the worlds of the four women and the narratives sort of interlink. There is a connection with these women. These are in a way household dramas, as one of the women says:

“Everyday life existed in the desert, but it was the daily routine of housewives and didn’t go beyond . . . the neighbour who only half-opened her door because she had wax on her thighs, fortune-telling in coffee grounds, food on the stove and gossip and knitting and babies’ nappies.

The men in the book are pretty two-dimensional and limited in their vision, but they are part of the universal journey of the women. The work is presented simply, but the issues are complex. There have been some negative reviews, but I found this powerful and some of the usual western criticisms unconvincing. This felt more like the reality of lived experience than portraying Arab women as victims. Tamr in particular is an example of agency and will. Al-Shaykh 's characters are diverse, complex, empowered and real.

8 out of 10

Starting Good Behaviour by Molly Keane

 

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