The history of how humanity developed its social and political institutions has never been free of violence. Much of this has been to do with power struggles, initially between competing cliques and subsequently between nation states - as evidenced by centuries of international wars. In the European west especially however there has been a parallel struggle for social justice – itself far from pacifist in expression.
Sex, death and madness …are continuing themes that resonate even when diminuendo in so many of our efforts to express understanding of the human condition. More than anything else they unite art and science as a source of endeavour in that enterprise. Reflect for yourself if you will on what the basic questions of science (including social science), the celebrated works of culture and philosophy, are about. This is merely a book review.
I love America. Especially when I am there, where the good things about the nation are more in evidence. Simply because you are physically connected to place and people. The main thing is that the USA does everything bigger and in brighter colours – even the sleaze and squalor. Of course, being white and speaking English makes life easier; possession of money even more so.
In May 2013, I reviewed a book titled This Man by Jodi Ellen Malpas. I think it must have been her first book - it certainly started a series of similar title. I wasn’t unkind about the writer but ‘chick lit’ is not my thing. I confess to a degree of condescension, and I doubt the publisher or author would find a suitable promotional endorsement in my piece: except that I had acknowledged her possibilities as a ‘good’ writer which in my terms simply meant she could do better than the cliché ridden pabulum of the genre. This was, of course, incredibly snobbish, and I apologise.
Aged 13, I arrived in the common room of my new boarding school to be greeted by the supervising senior boy with ‘So you’re the new boy, Abrahams, bit of a wog are you?’ I had no idea what he meant so merely smiled and accepted.
We are left in no doubt that religion carries a great, maybe even primary responsibility for the abuses suffered by women. The Europeans carried with them burdens of guilt about sex as sinful (except for procreation) and women were seen as intrinsically the instruments of Satan.
The book is up-to-date enough to include an interview with Dominic Cummings. This is appropriate because much of the historic commentary on Athenian ideas of democracy and the art of politics came from Thucydides – a favourite of the Prime Minister and his adviser. One doubts they revere the great historian and general as much for his ideals as his grasp of how power is won and sustained, and electorates managed.
In 1970s Soho, Muriel still ran the Colony Club, left-wing politicos still met in The Gay Hussar and lunching at L’Escargot with its faded red leather banquettes and elderly waiters was to relive Edwardian London. Once recognised as a ‘local’ the Soho family looked after you.
When an established novelist dips his pen into the satirical inkpot, the result is likely to be interesting. When a writer of Ian McEwan’s calibre takes on the farce and madness that is Brexit, as orchestrated by its chief farceur, Boris Johnson, the outcome is simply exquisite. I read this novella in one sitting and by its end was doubtful that anything better could ever be written on the subject: The Cockroach has to be the political satire of our time.
There should always be room for books which introduce us to different cultures and the backwaters or extremities of history. On occasion it may be that they can be fiction – although in general it must be asked why a documentary account would not serve understanding better; if only on the grounds that truth is in reality stranger than fiction.