Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Book Review - A Stolen Season by Rodney Hall

A Stolen Season by Rodney Hall

Sydney, Picador, 2018                ISBN 9781760555443

Rodney Hall is one of Australia's pre-eminent authors and poets, with a swag of work to his name: I have reviewed on this blog the magnificent The Island in the Mind, and so was very keen to read his new book, which, as it turns out, is very different to the afore-mentioned title but still good. While the subject matter is completely different to The Island in the Mind, the structure of the work has some similarities, being an intertwined set of stories about different characters.

The main thread of the book centres around Adam & Bridget. Adam was a soldier in the Australian Army in Iraq, who has been horribly injured by a missile strike, so much so that it has taken years for him to be well enough to come home, and so much so that he requires a mechanical "body" to be able to move at all, and requires constant attention to be able to feed and so on. The book starts with him coming back to his wife Bridget, and their house in Melbourne. It soon becomes clear that their marriage was essentially over before Adam left for war, and that Bridget has had a romance in the time he's been gone.

So the story revolves around Adam coming to terms with his new self, and asking questions about why he and other soldiers were in Iraq in the first place, and around Bridget's crisis of living not only with a man she no longer loves, but a man who is a more-or-less completely helpless bag of reconstructed flesh. She wants to leave, but feels obliged to stay. Her anguish at her situation, and for Adam's injuries, tears at her, while Adam grapples with the thought that it might have been better if the missile had killed him. Their mutual problems are not helped by their neighbour Yao, who Bridget is falling for, and her lover Ryan, who runs a TV interview show and is desperate to get Adam on the air.

This story is intertwined with another, of Marianna, a middle-aged dance teacher, who has found love late in life, only to lose it. She is on the run, why and from whom is not clear, and has made it to Belize, where she intends to climb a Mayan pyramid to await the end of days. As she moves toward her goal we find that her life has been hard, and to find that her new partner was not all that he said he was, was the final straw.

The centrepiece of the work is the story of John Philip Hardingham, a member of one of Australia's patrician families, whose strange inheritance gives him the chance to make his own mark on the World, rather than be a minor ghostly figure in a family of note.

These two peripheral stories are only tenuously connected to the tale of Adam & Bridget (Marianna requires a blood transfusion and Adam is the only person with her blood-type, and one of Adam's army platoon who has a major role in one of the flashbacks that is related in the book happens to attend a function with John Philip), and are complete in themselves.

Hall, with his usual exact choice of language and wonderful descriptive writing, explores the morality of the war in Iraq, and the internal morality of his characters, how they react to their situations, and how their situations shape them. He explores the loyalty the characters show to their families and partners, and how they grapple with being loyal to themselves at the same time.

This is quite a moving book, with a shocking ending which I won't reveal here. It is also an interesting book in terms of its structure and language.

Worth a look.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Book Review - Inside Hitler's Bunker by Joachim Fest

Inside Hitler's Bunker : the last days of the Third Reich by Joachim Fest

Translated from the German by Margot Bettauer Dembo

London: Pan, 2005 (Originally published 2004)    ISBN 0330431706

Is this the definitive book about the last few weeks at the heart of Nazi Germany? Perhaps so. Joachim Fest has gathered together information to present the chaotic and mad last days of Hitler's life, as Nazi Germany's final collapse happened above him as the Soviet Army subjected Berlin to its final torture and execution.

Fest has described day-by-day the last three weeks of Hitler's life, and ipso facto the life of the Third Reich, with all the insanity that was entailed in that, and has also posed some historical-philosophical questions on why it had to be that way.

The story of the final weeks in the Bunker is well-known, and Inside Hitler's Bunker adds to Hugh Trevor-Roper's classic The Last Days of Hitler with information that has come to light since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Where this book is interesting is in Fest's thinking about why it had to end as it did. His theory is that the Fuhrer always had, if not a death wish, a desire to destroy. This desire led him, and by extension the Nazis, to always have an enemy to destroy, and when the enemies began to prevail, he moved his desires onto the German people, wishing them to be exterminated as they had proved themselves the "weaker" race.

Fest uses as evidence for his theories the fact that Hitler always sought out enemies to destroy, and when the Germans had taken over other countries he ensured that peace was never made with the populace - an example is the Ukraine, where the population was initially inclined to side with the Nazis, before their depredations turned the people against them.

The desire to crush his enemies became twisted into a desire for Germany to die in flames as they lost the War. Fest mentions that several times Hitler had the potential opportunity to come to terms with enemies during the War, but spurned them all. His infamous "Nero" order - which was in the main ignored - showed him to be completely without feeling for "his" people. In fact Fest shows that much of the last few weeks of Hitler's life was the story of him sacrificing everything for his own glory, initially in an effort to turn the War around, and when the final realisation of defeat had set in, in an effort to have the most Wagnerian of endings that he could.

These musings are worth considering, and while not explaining completely the insanity that was Hitler's reign, add to the picture of how such a disaster could come about.

If you want to know what happened in the bunker, this is probably the best book to read.


Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell