Friday, 12 June 2015

A Brief History Of The Vikings by Jonathan Clements / The Visible World by Mark Slouka / Epitaph For A Working Man by Erhard Von Buren



A Brief History of the Vikings: The Last Pagans or the First Modern Europeans?A Brief History of the Vikings: The Last Pagans or the First Modern Europeans? by Jonathan Clements
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We chose not to visit the Jorvik Viking Centre when we were in York so I took the opportunity to plaster over a few of the gaps in my Viking history knowledge by downloading A Brief History Of The Vikings via Audible UK. I got lucky as this book was included in one of their 2 for 1 credit sales for members so it only actually cost just under £3! The information would easily be worth a full credit though.

A Brief History Of The Vikings is cram packed with names, dates and familial relationships. I would say that it is a male book because it concentrates on battles and power rather than giving much on how the various Viking societies lived their day to day lives. However, there is an interesting chapter about religious belief and later chapters touch on the violent forced conversions to Christianity from Paganism.

I was amazed by how far Viking influence spread during the three centuries of their 'heyday'. I already knew about the Danelaw that covered much of northern and eastern Britain for a long period, resulting in many modern-day people of that area tracing Scandinavian ancestry. It was interesting to learn more about this time and how the Viking Danelaw existed alongside the remaining Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. Viking traders and settlers were also recorded by the Spanish Moors, the Byzantine empire, as the Russ in Russia, and even building camps in the north Americas centuries before Columbus arrived.

A Brief History this book might be but, at a nine-hour listen and with so much information, I think it is one that could be returned to several times and might even take those several listens to determine exactly who is descended from whom!

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.


The Visible WorldThe Visible World by Mark Slouka
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Visible World by Mark Slouka is another paperback that my sister passed on to me. Set mostly in Prague, it is a fictional work that reads convincingly like a memoir so I wasn't ever completely sure how much might have been Slouka's real family and how much was imagined. The writing is beautiful and very atmospheric and I liked the dark undercurrent which kept me reading, dreading what was going to happen yet wanting to know all the same. The end of the wartime tale is even more emotional than I had imagined.

Slouka copes well with his dual time periods and both always feel real. I found the narrator's character the most difficult to pin down, while his father is certainly the most poignant I have read in quite a while. The Visible World is an interesting title as much of what happens is hidden, whether by passing years from our narrator, or by the need for secrecy even from close family during the war. The gradual uncovering of bravery, violence and passion keeps this novel interesting and it often seems to pose a question of its reader too: what would you have done?

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.


Epitaph for a Working ManEpitaph for a Working Man by Erhard von B├╝ren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of Epitaph For A Working Man from its publishers, Troubadour, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. The novel, in this English translation, is due to be published on the 28th of June.

I was initially drawn to Epitaph For A Working Man by its striking cover art as well as its intriguing title. The book is quite short, more novella length than full novel, and this brevity suits its style. In the book we meet a Swiss family: our protagonist who is an unemployed son living with his wife who has a good enough job to support them both; and his elderly father who is partly disabled and living in an old people's home on the outskirts of town.

Von Buren's writing is economical and matter of fact which tempers his potentially overwhelming story. Essentially these are ordinary people to whom nothing outrageous happens, yet Von Buren has them deal with terminal illness, marital infidelity and the self-identity of the breadwinner. I liked the questions asked of society at large: the father is the one dying yet his doctor will only speak over his head to the son; the son cannot find work anywhere yet the father is casually employed on pocket money wages and has more work than he can manage: the wife's job pays well yet for her to be financially supporting a house-husband makes everyone, except her, uncomfortable.

I'm glad to have stumbled across Epitaph For A Working Man as it is a well-written, thought-provoking story. It is different and original and, although action story fans probably would not enjoy its slow, small pace, I would like to recommend it to those who like to try a more unusual read.

Pre-order the paperback from Waterstones.


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