Friday, 11 September 2015

Little Women at Lindfield Arts Festival / Narrow Road To The Deep North by Richard Flanagan / Glorious Apollo by E Barrington

Before I get on to my latest two book reviews, I would like
to offer a brief preview of a literary stage adaptation that is coming to Lindfield, West Sussex next weekend. The excellent Barefoot Players will be performing Little Women, based on the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott, on the evening of September 20th as part of the annual Lindfield Arts Festival. I have been to several Barefoot Players plays in the past and always enjoy their mix of physical theatre and sympathetic story interpretation.

"A heart warming tale that has remained popular in readers' hearts for generations and now its time to see the story come to life. Remaining true to the books Little Women and Good Wives, the Barefoot players production brings a sense of tradition and tenderness to the stage with touching and comical performances from the cast."

Tickets are available from SWALK on Lindfield High Street, from Carousel Music on Commercial Square in Haywards Heath, and on the door.

The Narrow Road to the Deep NorthThe Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I have been looking forward to reading The Narrow Road To The Deep North since Dave got it for his Kindle ( which of course means I get to share it via Amazon's Family Library setting). I enjoyed my Audible download of The Unknown Terrorist, also by Richard Flanagan, and expected this story to grip me in a similar way. Instead, I found Narrow Road a much more difficult and impenetrable novel and not simply because of its horrifying Burma Railroad scenes.

We follow the life of an Australian doctor, Dorrigo Evans, who leaves the love of his life, Amy, when he goes off to war. Dorrigo and his men surrender to the Japanese who treat them as less than slaves and Dorrigo must try to keep as many alive as possible in a situation of desperate privation, neglect and overwork. Flanagan's writing is brutally graphic and honest about the suffering of not only the Australian POWs, but also the men and women of many other nationalities who were enslaved by the Japanese army.

Strangely, I was unable to feel the same powerful style throughout the earlier and later parts of the book. Dorrigo is never a particularly likeable person and while his marriage is essentially a sham, on his part at least, I wasn't convinced by his supposedly passionate affair with Amy either. Overly repetitive writing didn't help and perhaps the problem is just too many years being covered. I am glad to have read The Narrow Road To The Deep North and it is an ok book, but not the great novel for which I had hoped.

Glorious Apollo: A Novel of Lord ByronGlorious Apollo: A Novel of Lord Byron by E Barrington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I received a copy of Glorious Apollo from its publishers, Endeavour Press, as a thank you gift for signing up to their email newsletter. I am counting the book as my 1920s read for the Goodreads / Bookcrossing Decade Challenge.

Originally published in 1928 and now being republished, the novel is a fictionalised biography of the troubled poet Lord Byron. I think the work must have been scanned somehow as occasional letter parts are missing where perhaps the early print had faded, but I didn't have any trouble identifying what these words should have been.

It did take me a couple of chapters to get into Barrington's vintage writing style which seems unnecessarily verbose compared to modern-day novels. However, once I had got the hang of it, this actually helped with creating the period atmosphere. There are frequent allusions to classical and mythical figures and Shakespearean characters too, several of which I am sure passed me by completely but would add greater depth to the tale when recognised. Barrington has used the known facts of Byron's adult life as a framework and has then imagined conversations and interactions. A few genuine poems and letters are included and I did like that each chapter starts with a brief relevant poetry fragment. Characterisation is wonderful and I enjoyed reading the desperate hysterics of Caroline Lamb, the scheming of Lady Melbourne and the stoicism of Anne Byron. At times, our supposed hero, Byron himself, seemed to take second place to the women in his life. Glorious Apollo isn't the easiest of reads, but is a rewarding novel. Now I just need to find a Byron poetry collection so I can understand all the references!

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