The Ghost by Daniel Dilworth...

The Ghost is an excellent, gripping thriller from Robert Harris. It follows the Ghost, a ghostwriter who is employed to “ghost” the autobiography of former British prime minister, Adam Lang. He arrives in Martha’s Vineyard and finds out the previous writer, Mike McAra, had attempted it but ended up dying in mysterious circumstances, apparently suicide. The Ghost finds the previous draft of the autobiography left by McAra and declares it a mess. He interviews Lang. Around this time, his subject is threatened with being indicted by the International Criminal Court, with the support of a former minister in his cabinet, Rycart. Lang goes to New York and the Ghost has a one night stand with Ruth, Lang’s long-suffering wife. The Ghost begins to uncover more and more information and he begins to fear for his safety. He drives away in one of Lang’s SUVs, having to drive through protestors at the foot of the lane to the house. He returns to the mainland and meets up with an old college associate of Lang and Rycart. The ending is explosive, and not even what happens initially when they return to Martha’s Vineyard turns out to be the climax, though it may seem to be. Harris for once leaves the best until last. The Ghost is Harris’ masterpiece. True, Fatherland has its moments, and Pompeii is memorable (thank you English project) but for me this is one of the best-reads over the past two years, in which time I have read a wide variety of classic books (and Dubliners). It deals with the loneliness...

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré by Daniel Dilworth...

  John le Carré’s masterpiece, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, follows George Smiley, of the Circus (secret service), on his attempts to find the Soviet mole in the Agency. Jim Prideaux is sent to Czechoslovakia on a mission but ends up shot, forcing Smiley and his boss, Control, into retirement, where Control subsequently dies. Ricki Marr, through a love affair with the wife of a Soviet intelligence officer, finds out there is a mole in the Circus. Marr passes it on to Guillam, who passes it on to Lacon, who informs Smiley. Smiley and Guillam investigate without the knowledge of Percy Alleine, head of the Circus, or Bill Haydon, Toby Esterhase and Roy Bland. Prideaux, who survives his ordeal in Czechosovakia, informs Smiley that the presence of a mole was already known and Operation Testify was just a bid to learn his identity. Meanwhile Alleine has become head of the Circus and apparently has been sending the Soviets false information in return for important intelligence from a source known as “Merlin.” However, Alleine has been receiving largely false information in exchange for important intelligence. After pressure from Smiley, Esterhase admits his role in “Merlin” and reveals where the mole and his Soviet handler meet. Tarr goes to Paris and messages Alleine, who then ends up getting the mole to go to a meeting with his handler in the safe house. Tinker Tailor is a brilliantly written book, dealing with (would you believe in a spy novel) the theme of loneliness very well. The film adaptation from 2011, starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and John Hurt amongst other brilliant actors, compliments the book beautifully, even if there is the odd change in the plot here and there. It’s still better than the Fleming espionage novels (you know the...

Favourite Reads: “Harry Potter” by Aaron McCarthy...

At this stage to include the Harry Potter series in a collection of books that you just have to read is, admittedly, a cliché. The Potter saga is renowned across the world – many, many people have grown up with the enchanting tales of the bespectacled boy wizard, his gangly friend and the “insufferable know-it-all”. Therefore coming to review the Potter books is quite a challenge. How can one really do justice to the magic J.K. Rowling wove? How can one hope to accurately sum up the charm of these seven novels? I just don’t know. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to account for why the Potter books are so great but here are just some reasons why you need to keep those books on your shelves. Whenever someone mentions the books to me I don’t think about the things like “magic school” or even the plot of having to kill He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (‘ah go on’ I hear you say so all right, Voldemort). Instead I think about the characters. It’s the characters that have made the series so magical: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Hagrid, McGonagall, Snape…even poor little Dobby. Even looking at the names of these characters should evoke some sort of emotional response, elicit some special memories. All these characters and more are fully rounded,and you got to grow up with them; it’s something that no other book series (at least to my knowledge) has achieved. True, you get the books like Famous Five and Secret Seven that have many, many sequels. Yet these characters don’t age but the cast of the Potterdom do. J.K. Rowling has created a beautiful narrative in which you can spend seven years living with the characters; you can see them grow and develop, and as they...

Favourite Reads: “What are You Looking at? 150 years of modern art in the blink of an eye” by Will...

Gompertz has written a miracle of a book if only for its sheer enjoyment. He takes modern art and opens it like a birthday present and you just love getting it. I love everything about it: its bright cover; its neat font; the colour plates (not so much the b&w ones!); the subject matter; the fluid expression; the personable manner with which he writes. The story begins with a coterie of disgruntled, bored artists in Paris seeking to challenge the artistic orthodoxy of the day as exemplified by the Acadamie des Beaux Arts. This was the stuffy edifice that decided what was and wasn’t art. Monet and Delacroix painted en plein air (outside) which is considered normal enough now but was something of an aberration then. Delacroix used unmixed colours: think of his Liberty Leading the People which so upset the French Monarchy of the day for being a little too republican in tone. Then you have Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World. Even now this raises eyebrows. His model was alleged to have been an Irishwoman named Joanna Hiffernan. The painting shows…erm, her nether regions in a way that, shall we say, leaves little to the imagination. It was supposedly commissioned by Khalil-Bey, a Turkish-Egyptian diplomat, who kept it behind a curtain. Suffice to say, Courbet causes waves. Manet combined Delacroix’s skill with Courbet’s realism and made The Absinthe Drinker, a portrait of a bum in Paris. The subject matter, to say nothing of the style, upset the Academie. But Manet had his fans. Baudelaire was one. He argued that proper art should be about modern life as it is. What could be more natural nowadays? Baudelaire advocated the lifestyle of a flaneur, a traveller, a man-about-town, living amongst the ordinary folk,...

Favourite Reads: “A Little Aloud” edited by Angela MacMillan...

This gem of a book is part of the The Reader Organisation (TRO). They run a Get into Reading programme to encourage those who may not otherwise read to do so by giving them the option of listening to others read for them. These recipients may include the mentally or chronically ill, those living in deprived areas, prisoners,  recovering addicts and a whole range of others. The TRO argues that literature speaks to us all. It started in Liverpool but is now running in Australia and elsewhere. The Foreword is written by Blake Morrison, an accomplished writer and patron of the TRO. In it he recounts how he asked the writer Doris Lessing, “What does it all mean?” Lessing answered with a question of her own: “What are human beings for?” He pursues this question and asserts that making meaning is a human trait, a need: “We are stories.” I read the poem “For a Five-Year-Old” by Fleur Adcock with a class. It’s about a snail; the child sees the snail and the parent advises to remove it so that it won’t be crushed. The child agrees and the agreement is as natural as anything else the child might do upon the suggestion of the parent, like having something to eat or a bath. But the speaker realises something: “I see, then, that a kind of faith prevails:/your gentleness is moulded still by words/ from me”. However that same voice admits to acts of terrible cruelty: “[I] have trapped mice and shot wild birds/[…] drowned your kittens”. The child simply wants to look at the snail. His response is curiousity. The parent teaches the child to dispose of the creature all the while living hypocritically: “But that is how things are: I am your...

Favourite Reads: “The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro...

“But all in all, I can see no genuine reason why I should not undertake this trip.” This novel is extraordinary for its narrative voice. It is Mr Stevens and it is 1956; he is due a few days off and is planning a very English-style holiday involving guest houses and suitable costumes as well as ensuring he’s presented appropriately given that he represents Darlington Hall. The trip is a major affair and everthing has to be carefully considered. Even the offer by his employer Mr Faraday to allow the trip and to cover the cost of fuel is analysed in depth. We quickly learn that the trip is not so simple as it initially seemed: there’s a Mrs Kenton who now lives elsewhere due to marriage but is an erstwhile colleague of Stevens’. The latter suggests rehiring her as there is a paucity of good help at Darlington. Mr Faraday jokes with Stevens about his motives and Stevens is mortified. Stevens isn’t au fait with “banter”: indeed he seems very much ill-at-ease with it. Most of the novel is told in retrospect. We see a forgotten (by some) world where duty is everything. This is very evident in the personage of Stevens’ father. Both men are English to the core.  Living up to this standard is perhaps what ensures that he remains – for the duration of the story – uptight, quietly desperate and somehow vaguely attenuated. Mr Stevens and his colleague Mr Graham disagree on the subject of dignity. The latter believes it to be an innate quality like a woman’s beauty, while Stevens believes it’s something that can be pursued and perfected over time. He opines that his father had this rare and essential dignity in the sense he wasn’t just...