Tag Archives: Robert Edric

More of America

darktownAs promised in the last post, here is Darktown by Thomas Mullen. Set in 1948, it is a fictionalised account of early police work in Atlanta, Georgia. However, on this precinct all the policemen are black; eight men, under a white mentor, operate out of a hot basement apartment in an area of Atlanta largely populated by African Americans. These eight men have all the appearances of the white city police: guns, batons, badges and uniforms – but they have no squad cars and they are not allowed to arrest white citizens, furthermore they can do nothing if white cops decide to bring their operation into the black neighbourhood.

This happens, frequently and often violently, especially if a policeman called Dunlow happens to be around. Known for violent and often wrongful arrests of African American citizens, he is the nemesis of Officers Boggs and Smith.

So on a dark night when Boggs and Smith stop a car, one with a white driver and a young African American passenger in a yellow dress, there is not a great deal they can do; but a few hours later they seen the same car being stopped by Dunlow and Rakestraw, by this time it is clear that the young girl is in trouble as they have seen her being hit and when she jumps from the car and runs away, they assume that Dunlow and Rakestraw are dealing with it…

This is, at one and the same time, a police procedural thriller, a search for the perpetrator of several  untimely deaths and the extreme difficulties faced by the black officers who are not permitted to investigate crimes, even ones committed on their patch; they are not permitted to walk about in their uniforms unless actually on duty or appearing in court, so they are required to carry their uniforms in garment bags and to change on the site – generally in a cupboard and finally, they are not permitted under any circumstances to enter the police HQ.

This is also about race relations, the gulf between the two sides of Atlanta. The invisible dividing line between the areas where the white folk live and the areas for other people, and woe betide any uppity African American who builds a property on the wrong site, real estate being what it is, an area needs to maintain its status as a white neighbourhood, otherwise property values will nose-dive…

The writing is brilliant, the story breath-taking and the message is plain.  It is hard to believe that we have moved such a short way beyond this divided and hideous world and to many people it looks as though some of it may come back any time soon. This is the book to read, being forewarned is some way towards preventing it all coming back to haunt us.

Searching through the TBR pile I came upon another, very different American novel. Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen is so different that it is hard to relate the two books as being placed on the same continent. This is the tale of a woman, a doctor, looking back over her life and upbringing on a farm near to Philadelphia. In fact it is not clear where exactly the eponymous place, Miller’s Valley is exactly, but it must be East somewhere.Millers Valley.jpg

Mary Margaret Miller is the only daughter of Bob Miller and his wife, a nurse, who farm in the lower reaches of the valley.  They have two sons Ed and Tommy, Ed is quiet, stolid and hard working and eventually goes off to become an engineer, Tommy is fabulously good looking, and wild with it.

The thrust of the story, though, centres around plans to dam the valley. The state engineers come round offering deals to people who will give up their homes and relocate, this process is slow and many people think it will never happen. Often after severe rains there is catastrophic flooding, but still the residents are reluctant to move. The Miller family have been there at least since 1822, a matter of about one hundred and twenty five years and possibly more.

The characters, their families, their successes and failures are bewitchingly drawn for us, the readers. We really care and appreciate their dilemmas. The mistakes they make are terribly human and familiar and the Miller family are not unique in their triumphs and their tragedies.

This is also a novel about change, change resisted and then embraced. Mary Margaret moves away to study, marries and has a family and circumstances bring her back to Miller’s Valley to work as a GP. Looking back over her life, she muses on the things that change, the hidden secrets even among families and those things that remain unchanged – among them love.

Anna Quindlen has written several novels, but is virtually unknown in this country, hopefully that will change.

edricFinally, another book about the flooding of a valley, this time an English valley and written mostly from the perspective of the engineer. He comes to look at the feasibility, but finds his decisions are made much harder once he gets to know the residents. This is The Gathering the Water by Robert Edric, and author I have frequently recommended.


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Prognostication – Man Booker Prize 2016

Unusually, I have not been grabbed this year by the one book that must be on the Man Booker List because it is going to be the winner. I was spot on with Luminaries, which did indeed go on to win; right that it was on the list, but not a winner, last year with A Little Life.

My suggested list this year is in alphabetical order because these are the books I would like to see on the long list, but I don’t have an outright winner, several favourites but since they cannot all win I am not picking them out yet. So:

Anam 3Tahmima AnamThe Bones of Grace, this is a lovely ending to a trilogy that has been a long time in the making, but it stands alone so there is no downside (except the Reader’s loss) in not having read the first two.

The Noise of Time Julian Barnes Dmitri ShostakovichJulian BarnesThe Noise of Time, a marvellous fictional account of the making of a piece of music, Shostakovich struggles with his piece at the same time as his struggles with the State become more fraught and perilous every minute, the grab bag is packed and outside the door…

BoydWilliam BoydSweet Caress, this is Mr Boyd back on the form of his life, I do hope the judges see it this way…

Everyone BraveChris CleaveEveryone Brave is Forgiven, war books are seldom fashionable choices for the Man Booker, but this may change, I have put more than one on my list, this is a masterpiece.

EdricRobert EdricField Service, I think Robert Edric is a sadly overlooked author, I have loved pretty much every book he has written, but it is only when he departs from world war that he gets a look in, which is a pity since it is about war and its aftermath that he writes so well. Historical novels used not to be considered and look where they are now, a double winner, so maybe his time has come.

HardingGeorgina HardingThe Gun Room, a more modern war but seen through a lens, another great piece of imagination and empathy.

NapoleonThomas KeneallyNapoleon’s Last Island, a beautiful and unusual look at one of Europe’s great men in his last days, seen through the eyes of a young girl, Betsy Balcombe. Keneally hit upon this tale because of its Australian connections, and he has made it leap from the page.

MillerAndrew MillerThe Crossing, this deals with the interior nature of suffering and grief in a most unusual tale and is all the more compelling for that.

MorganCE MorganThe Sports of Kings, it is very hard to classify this amazing book, her second novel. Nearer to Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley (also an American) than anything else I have read, but it is so much more than a novel about breeding race horses.

This Must Be The Place Maggie O'FarrellMaggie O’FarrellThis Must be the Place, this I am most confident will be included like the Julian Barnes and the Sarah Perry it seems to be on everyone’s list, it is a sweeping story that crosses continents and times with vigour and intelligence, not to mention beautiful prose.

The Essex Serpent Sarah PerrySarah PerryThe Essex Serpent, another second novel which I think is required reading. Her first, After Me Comes the Flood won a lots of prizes and was greatly admired, there is no reason why this should not do the same.

SpuffordFrances SpuffordGolden Hill, I haven’t seem this on anyone else’s list, maybe because it is something of a spoof of an eighteenth century novel in the manner of a Richardson or Swift, it is marvellously funny and paints a very vivid portrait of a well known and much loved city in its infancy, a sheer delight.

SwiftGraham SwiftMothering Sunday, a short, plangent and jewel-like love story set between the two world wars, truly a gem.

Any or all of these might be missed out, this is merely my selection from the books I have read, there are others yet to reach the bookshops that the judges have seen and they will certainly have as much of a chance as any of these; there are no debut novels here either, so at least one or two of these must be displaced by a new voice, one which I may not have heard.

Any or all of these are worth trying, even if they are not on the Man Booker Longlist.

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More War

What more is there, can there be, to say about war? Fiction and non-fiction continues to fill the book shelves and presumably to fly out of the shops into the hands of readers like myself, who go on wanting to learn.

ParkerDo we though? Well, harrowing as it is to read Anatomy of a Soldier it does teach the reader a lot, much of it painfully graphic and frightful. The tale is told through a series of vignettes, each one an item belonging to or affecting a particular soldier: BA5799. In the beginning we don’t know who he is, where he is or indeed what the first item is, except that it is stored in a plastic film in the thigh pocket – this vignette opens the book and turns out to be a tourniquet, first tied tightly round a limb and eventually discarded and burned. From then on the intelligent reader will have worked out that this is not going to end prettily, or entirely well. One vignette after another expands the picture: surgical instruments, bicycles, fertiliser, fungal infections each one has its place in the history of a soldier injured in Afghanistan, flown home, treated…Harry Parker knows what he is about, he served in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now a writer.

Another writer who looks at war from a different angle is Robert Edric. EdricHis latest novel, Field Service, deals with the aftermath of World War One. The Imperial War Graves Commission (in its infancy) is collecting and reburying the bodies of fallen soldiers; British in this case, but elsewhere Germans and French are doing the same strange and upsetting job. Our detail is near the Somme in a place called Morlancourt. It is summer 1920 and a small detachment of men are creating one of the smaller cemeteries. Plagued by a difficult terrain, a toublesome stream which was not fully recorded on the map and an intransigent senior officer, Captain James Reid is endeavouring to make something good out of chaos and death. To add to their woes, two women turn up – one to find her fiancé and another to oversee the burial of several serving nurses who, it has been decided, will be buried together even though they did not necessarily work together. A further agitation is the burial of a soldier who did not die in combat. Finally, as if things could not get any worse, a farmer tells them of a barn where bodies are lying, half burned and telling a grisly tale of mass murder. With unerring skill and a deft touch, Robert Edric exposes the emotional trauma that this enormous task brings out in each individual, these young serving soldiers some of whom have been in the thick of it and desire more than anything to get home and others who missed the fighting and feel somehow cheated of the glory, but all of them wanting to find, identify and bury with suitable dignity these their fallen comrades.

SmithThe final book is Not so quiet… by Helen Zenna Smith, one of “our courageous girls”. Nice, well-bred young women who trained as nurses and ambulance drivers and were sent, unprepared, into a hell beyond imagining. Blood, vomit, gangrene, bombs, extreme cold and superiors who seemingly had no heart and no patience. Zenna Smith describes vividly the appalling conditions, inadequate provisions, night time drives from station to hospital again and again; cleaning the ambulances and surviving on poor food – longing for parcels from home and having at the same time to write cheerful and excited letters home.  Her sister, Trix, is a VAD in a hospital somewhere else in France – Workustohellandback Hospital – and her letters in which the truth can be told in all its terror and horror are a relief compared to her mother’s gung-ho attitude.  Such bravery – it could not happen now, Facebook and Twitter would simply swamp the internet – and outrage would follow hard upon.

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