Saturday, 19 January 2019

January 2019's Book Reviews




Call For The Dead - John le Carre


George Smiley, overweight and of a quiet disposition, an intelligence officer who has seen too much and done too much, is one of Le Carre’s most famous characters and is featured in many of his novels, including Smiley’s People and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (the book that secured Le Carre’s worldwide reputation). In Call For The Dead, Smiley is a weary agent and ready for retirement, yet he cannot refuse one last desperate call for his services. He returns one more time to solve a baffling case involving a murdered colleague, a twisted former hero of Germany and a once-beautiful, tortured woman with a terrifying secret.

A cross between Fleming’s Bond and Christie’s Poirot, Smiley is a lovable character with a complicated past. His wife left him for a suntanned Cuban lover, his apprentice is now working for the enemy and his only joy is his profession, which provides him with colleagues as equally obscure in character and origin as he is. Previously an Oxford student of 17th Century German literature, his tutor knew George  was not destined to a future in academia, and encourages him to join the Secret Service. Now a few decades later, Smiley, sick of office work and much younger agents taking over all the work, is on the brink of retirement, when a colleague is found dead in his house. A type-written note and pistol accompanies his former colleague and the department call it in as a suicide, but Smiley trusts his gut instinct and interviews the widow. He leaves the house, unsettled, and so begins a cat-and-mouse chase, leaving him in hospital, his associates in danger and a former agent of his trying to silence him.


John Le Carre himself studied at Oxford, taught at Eton and then later joined the British Foreign Service. His real name is, in fact, David Cornwell and he is often described as the best spy novelist of the last century.






Goddess - Kelly Gardiner


Based on the true story of a woman known as La Maupin, this is an fascinating account of a sword-fighting, opera-singing girl from the courts of 17th Century Versailles. The whole story is written from the perspective of Julie confessing to all her escapades and adventures to a young priest who’s been tasked with writing down her last confession as she lies in her convent deathbed.

Julie-Emilie d’Aubigny, known as Mademoiselle de Maupin, is taught to fence at the court of the Sun king. At 13 she is taken mistress by the King’s Master Of Horse. Tempestuous and swashbuckling, after two years she has run away from court carving out a name for herself with her fencing skills across France. After taking a nun for a lover, facing exile and duelling with some of France’s most powerful men (not to mention winning of course), she returns to the convent to where she followed her lover all those years ago. Only in her thirties, she is fever-ridden and dying but has had such a marvellous life, packed with fights, opera and balls.

Although a work of fiction, Goddess is an interpretation of the life of the very real Julie. Her adventures were documented by diarists, chroniclers and eighteenth-century theatre historians. Gardiner has compiled all the account with evidence and compiled them into a fantastic book of romance and feminism in a time where France was ruled by men.





The Silent Companions - Laura Purcell


A book I didn’t want to pick up. Yes you read that correctly. I was so tense with anticipation and fear I was so scared to turn another page. The Silent Companions is a sinister tale of newly married, newly widowed Elsie, who is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s eerie manor, The Bridge. The maids ignore her, the villagers resent her, and so she finds herself with only her husband’s shy cousin for company… or so she thinks. Inside The Bridge, hidden in the rat-infested attic are the Silent Companions, wooden figures with eyes painted so well that they literally follow Elsie around the room. When the cousin discovers a diary in the attic, written by a past lady of the manor, Elsie starts to suspect the contents of the attic aren’t just decorations and slowly realises how close a resemblance the figures have to the past occupants of the cursed manor from the diary. A year later she awakes in a psychiatry hospital, covered in severe burns. Charged for murder and delirious on morphine, she must recount her tales to a young doctor, the only one willing to prove her innocence.

As the book neared the end, the mystery and terror seemed to calm down and I finally let out the breath I didn’t know I was holding. Dear me was I wrong, with only a few pages to go I got  the breath knocked out of my body with one final twist, making sure that I wouldn’t sleep that night.

Through a combination of first and third person, this book builds tension in such a way I was too scared to turn the next page. The book switches between present tense in the 19th Century, to the diary of a woman. Every draught, every movement round a corner, every creek of wood in that old manor, I felt from the safety of my cosy bed. Any lovers of Weeping Angels or The Woman in Black are sure to love this fantastic piece by Purcell. She is a former bookseller from Colchester, and her first novel The Silent Companions was published to widespread critical acclaim and was a BBC Radio 2 Book Club choice. I am certainly looking for her next book The Corset, another Victorian-gothic novel, which came out recently.

(Warning: Don’t read just before bed time!)









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