Monthly Archives: August 2020

Absorbing novel about ground-breaking author

Review: Vivien Horler

The Lodger, by Louisa Treger (Bloomsbury Reader/ Jonathan Ball)

In an author’s note at the end of  The Lodger, Louisa Treger writes that Dorothy Richardson, on whose life this novel is based, died in poverty and obscurity in an old age home in 1957.

A visitor was told Richardson suffered from delusions, believing she was a famous writer. Surprised, the visitor responded: “She is a famous writer!”

It turns out she was one of the early innovators of “stream of consciousness” writing, “which imitated the movement of the female mind”.

In a review of Richardson’s Revolving Lights in 1923, Virginia Woolf wrote: “Dorothy Richardson has invented … a sentence which we might call the psychological sentence of the feminine gender. It is of a more elastic fibre than the old, capable of stretching to the extreme, of suspending the frailest particles, of enveloping the vaguest shapes…” Continue reading

Learning to write – 200 words at a time

Vivien Horler

Mike Nicol

I have to write 200 words of description for my assignment for my writing course this week.

“Imagine that sunset that stunned you or catching a wave on an early morning surf or a tense hang-gliding moment, or an afternoon at a waterhole in the bush …” instructs Mike Nicol, top SA crime writer, biographer and memoir-writer who is running the course.

“Or something completely different: describe entering a foreign city for the first time; or moving into a new home; arriving at a holiday destination.”

In 200 words? It’s not easy. But it’s not meant to be.

In fact I have an MA in creative writing, and my thesis scored good marks, so why am I doing Mike’s course on Writing Reality – essentially narrative non-fiction writing?

Because as a friend briskly pointed out, a thesis is not a book. So I’ve been hoping to learn some skills, how to round out what I’ve written, how to make it live and breathe and connect to the reader. Continue reading

Covid has kicked rugby into touch

Review: Archie Henderson

Unholy Union – When rugby collided with the modern world, by Michael Aylwin with Mark Evans (Constable)

Never mind the mindless ban on booze or smokes, a winter without rugby has been bloody awful. Our rugby season has been cold, bleak and miserable without anything or anyone to cheer for from the terraces or the TV couch.

As if that were not bad enough, there might be little to cheer about even when this virus is overwhelmed, if it ever is. The game we love could be very different and a much-loved part of it might even have begun to disappear.

When Michael Aylwin, a rugby writer on Britain’s Guardian newspaper, collaborated with Mark Evans, a former CEO of Harlequins RFC in England, to write this book, Covid-19 was not even on the horizon. Now it’s on the touchline, and it could change everything. Continue reading

What happens when the grownups can’t play nice?

Review: Vivien Horler

Playing Nice, by JP Delaney (Quercus/ Jonathan Ball)

It has to be one of a parent’s worst nightmares: a man arrives at your front door to tell you he has DNA evidence to prove that your toddler son is actually his and he has yours – that the babies were swopped at birth in a hospital mix-up.

Pete Riley is an altogether nice guy, a former London journalist who has become a house husband while his wife Maddie has a high-powered job in advertising. Their son Theo, 2, is a bit of a wild boy who is in trouble at nursery school for hitting another child, but Pete adores him.

And then one day Miles Lambert, accompanied by a private detective, arrives on Pete’s doorstep with the devastating news. The detective obtained a sample of Theo’s DNA from his sippy cup, which had gone missing from his nursery school. There is no doubt that Theo is Miles’s son.

In his horror Pete says: “Jesus. You tested my son’s DNA without my permission – “ to which Miles replies: “Well, technically my son. But yes…” Continue reading

Love shines through story of vicious Italian World War II battle

Review: Vivien Horler

The Sound of the Hours, by Karen Campbell (Bloomsbury)

Google the Battle of Garfagnana and Wikipedia gives you a dispassionate description of a brief, devastating battle around Christmas 1944 among villages and towns in the Tuscan Alps. There are references to generals and tanks and casualties, to Allied and Axis soldiers.

But there is nothing about the people who lived in those villages, whose lives were interrupted and then overturned as the tide of war swept through their ancient stone towns, woods, valleys and hills.

A family from the village of Catagnana, in the hills above the town of Barga, are front and centre of this wonderful novel by Karen Campbell, which takes its title from the bells that ring out from the region’s churches, sounding the hours. Continue reading

A peaceful transition to democracy? No, it wasn’t


Review: Vivien Horler

Undeniable: Memoir of a covert war, by Philippa Garson (Jacana)

Everyone over the age of 30 or so remembers where we were the day FW de Klerk unbanned the liberation movements, the day just over a week later when Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and the day nearly four years later when we took part in South Africa’s first democratic elections.

It was a heady period, the time of the Rainbow Nation, when our new multi-coloured flag replaced the unloved (by most South Africans) Oranje Blanje Blou, and when an ecstatic Archbishop Desmond Tutu introduced the recently elected President Mandela to a crowd on the Grand Parade, saying excitedly: “Here he is! Our president – brand new, out of the box!”

It was South Africa’s miracle to have avoided civil war and the bloodbath that had been predicted for years, and emerge into the sunlit uplands of freedom.

Well, 26 years later we know how that turned out. But it did seem pretty miraculous at the time. Continue reading

Curious tale of the sons of spies

Review: Archie Henderson

The Spy and the Traitor, by Ben Macintyre (Penguin)

The names Oleg Gordievsky and Aldrich Ames are well known to aficionados of espionage. Gordievsky is the most famous spy of the Cold War and Ames its most famous American traitor.

They are contrasting characters in other ways too.

Gordievsky, whose father was a senior KGB officer and whose brother was a deep-penetration agent in the West, was a child of communism. But he became repelled by his family’s ideology. It began with the Berlin Wall which, as a young Russian agent posted to East Berlin he saw going up in 1961. Seven years later he was further appalled by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in the Prague Spring of 1968. When a Czech friend from KGB spy school defected to Canada, Gordievsky decided to throw in his lot with the West. Continue reading