In the High Peaks

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

John Le Carre's Anti-Trump Novel of 2019

Throughout this post, I will lazily omit the accent on the final "e" in Carre. Please look the other way, or imagine it in place.
I've been very lucky to get a first edition, first printing, hardcover edition of Le Carre's 2019 novel, Agent Running in the Field for a mere $12 from Amazon. Since the original sale price was $30, it's easy to see that the first printing has not sold well. So how can that be?  Well, of course I don't have the answer, but it is very interesting that the novel received lots and lots of negative comments on Amazon and other book-selling sites for being, as the readers themselves put it, "so anti-Trump." I mean, really negative reviews for that aspect alone.

This discovery fascinates me. The novel was considered noxious by many readers, not because of the story, or the development of the characters, but because the main character was ardently anti-Trump. And I began to wonder about the dismal sales of the book. Might this fact indicate that devoted fans of Le Carre are Republicans? Supporters of Trump? I'm mystified because the anti-Trump aspect of the book is what made Ken and I decide to buy it.

And this leads me to another topic. Le Carre (David Cornwell)  is 88 years old. (He turns 89 in October 2020.) He has written two novels in succession, the latest  in 2019. I wonder what the future holds for him and us his readers, but if his memoir Pigeon Tunnel is any indication, he may be thinking of drawing his career to a close. My heart aches to think it, but there it is.

Friday, February 21, 2020

A Brief Bookish Post and Elizabeth Jane Howard

I started reading Elizabeth Jane Howard's Falling several nights ago. I know nothing about the book and some months ago downloaded it at an extremely minimal cost. Like, say, $1.99?
The male protagonist, aging and in his sixties, is scrambling to get by financially. He lives on a houseboat, though he doesn't own it. He does not have the money to buy vodka when he wants a glass. His situation seems dismal, but on the other hand, he has very high standards and expectations of what he would like to find in a female companion.  Please note: I'm only forty pages in on this one, but he is coming across as a totally unreliable narrator. I'm reading on to find out if he really is an unreliable narrator, or if something else is going on. And I worst of all, I don't know Howard's work as a whole, this being the first book I've  read by her.  So this is an adventure! Have you read books by Howard, and what have been your thoughts about them?

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Mr. Nobody and Other Wintry Pastimes and 2020 Worry

Catherine Steadman's thriller Mr. Nobody is a good read, yet it took me so long to finish it. I still seem to be in a place where reading is not my #1 activity. It's true--I am pre-occupied and distracted by the 2020 political whirlwind, but the worst of it all is that this distraction leads me to worry intensely. The more days that pass, the more I'm overwhelmingly disturbed by my concerns. This state of mind leads me to want to do the following: 1) cook ferociously and madly!, 2) heave myself into financial matters that should have been dealt with long ago, 3) push myself into an extravaganza of stranded (color) knitting learning, 4) revamp the studio (again), and 5) walk my dog over wintry, snowy mountain roads for up to two hours per day. (Sandy's an angel after her walkie, though, so it's worth the trouble! Otherwise she is a little demon.)

Okay. Mr. Nobody is a "very good" thriller, and I would give it four stars. I must have a thriller or two in the depth of winter and in the steamiest heat of summer, and this one was just twisty enough with loads of psychological matter to consume me. If you're intrigued by stories of intense psychological suspense, you will likely appreciate this one. But??? Want an even better thriller??? Then look back to the January 2018 publication of The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn. That was a killer. Five stars. That had a psychological depth and deftness that most thrillers never attain.

Where to next? I've got my eye on The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. I bought it late last year, and haven't gotten off the ground with it--not yet anyway. The answer is: Keep trying.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Storminess and Historical Fallacies in Nonfiction and Fiction

Due to yesterday's ice storm, today's snowstorm, and tonight's howling winds, we will certainly be losing power, and I always feel I want to post something before the internet is blown away. The ice accumulated on trees and wires yesterday and last night, and after the snow accumulation today and the winds, branches and trees are falling.

I'm still listening to Dutch Girl as I knit, and I continue to come across inaccuracies that make me think I'm going crazy. The author, who is reportedly known for his investigative journalism of historic subjects in the 20th century, wrote that Anne Frank and her family, after spending time at at a camp in the Netherlands, were eventually sent to Auschwitz.

This is true.
BUT Margot, Anne's older sister, and Anne resided in Auschwitz (Poland) for only two months. Their mother remained in Auschwitz after her daughters' departure, as did their father (though husband and wife were not together). Margot and Anne were  transported to Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp in Germany. Margot and Anne spent many more months at Bergen-Belsen than  they ever spent in Auschwitz. In discussing Margot's and Anne's deaths, the author never mentions Bergen-Belsen. This omission leads the reader to conclude that Margot and Anne died at Auschwitz, which is absolutely false. The Frank girls lived and died under the conditions at Bergen-Belsen, which have been extremely well documented.
On top of that, we have the fact that the author stated that Unity was the youngest Mitford sister. This is also false.
Well, naturally, I fault the author, but you know, in truth, I fault the publisher more.
All works of history and biography have customarily been fact-checked, or they used to be. But today, it seems that many publishers have relaxed these standards.

I've been finding a few glaring errors in works of historical fiction lately as well.
Last month I started reading The Huntress by Kate Quinn. Perhaps you know her most well-known novel The Alice Network. I set the latter aside after fifty pages because I didn't feel the presence of authentic historical detail.
Somehow or other, perhaps idiotically, when I was desperate for captivating reading material while I was recently laid up, I downloaded The Huntress, largely because it had  starred reviews from Booklist and Library Journal.
I cannot tell you how disturbed I was when Quinn's protagonist equates the German Iron Cross with the Nazi swastika. This conflation occurred several times within ten pages. I was horrified and couldn't believe my eyes! These two iconic emblems of 20th century German history to be confused!One assumes that when an author specializes in a historical time period, they have studied the period thoroughly for a period of time and, in addition, are extremely well read within that historical era. In Kate Quinn's case, I must say that this is patently untrue. This error felt like fingernails scraping on a chalkboard for me, and into the trash heap The Huntress goes! Do the historical novelists of 2020 believe they don't need to be specialists of European history in the 20th century if they write fiction about it? I ask you.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Correction to Previous Post: The Dutch Girl

I made a serious cultural and geographical error in my previous post about Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II. I picked up the print copy today at the library and late this afternoon I re-read Chapter 2, which I found difficult to absorb in an audio format.
To correct myself: No, Audrey Hepburn has no Belgian ancestry, although she and her family lived in Brussels for several years while she was a young child. Her noble ancestors were Frisian, and as the author points out, many Frisians, even today, do not consider themselves "Dutch," though they live within the Netherlands. But they are definitely NOT Belgian.  Her grandfather and grandmother lived just outside of Arnhem, which is in the eastern part of the Netherlands, not so many miles from Germany.
Because Audrey was educated from age 6,  for the next five years, in England, she experienced a very hard time when she went to live with her mother in the Netherlands, NOT in the Arnhem area, but in an area distinctly Dutch. She knew not  a word of Dutch.
So I think that this corrects all the misinformation I loaded on you poor readers yesterday. The print copy definitely helped me through Chapter 2!

Sunday, February 2, 2020

New Audiobook, New Book--The Groundhogs Stay Deep Underground!

Our beloved woodchucks (in the Northeast we don't call them groundhogs) would not even consider coming out of hibernation on February 2nd, Groundhog's Day.  We don't see them at all until grass appears from under the snow, which can rarely be late March at the absolute earliest, or mid-April. When the woodchucks finally appear, they head immediately for the only green grass, which is, of course, over the septic tank.
My father's birthday was February 1st, and when I was little, I confused his birthday with Groundhog's Day. On February 2nd, my mother always served cake-style doughnuts (plain), with honey, which in my mother's family, were always eaten on that day to ensure prosperity in the New Year. So my father had a birthday cake on the First, then the next day we had doughnuts, and it was one big long connected holiday, as far as I was concerned.

I've just started listening to The Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II by Robert Matzen (2019).  It's fascinating--and I've ordered a hard copy from the library because at the beginning of the book, her family's Belgian names, nobility all, are hard to grasp and distinguish on audio. So yes, Audrey's mother was Belgian and her father (her mother's second husband) was English, and both of them were pro-Nazi.  (The Mitford Sisters also figure prominently.) I'm only 13 percent of the way into the bio, but that much is clear. She spent the war years living with her mother in the Netherlands. She desperately struggled to fit in, as a Dutch girl, which she wasn't, not at all. She couldn't even speak the language, naturally. I recommend it highly.
I'll give more details as I listen,  while desperately trying to finish an updated cardigan style sweater, in sapphire heather Cascade 220 yarn. That's my favorite brand of knitting worsted wool. At least 80 shades, I believe. Webs ( is my primary knitting store. Although they do a huge mail-order business, they also have an enormous  warehouse outlet in Northhampton, Massachusetts. Very occasionally on my way to Boston I drive the 18 miles out of my way to drop in.

Before bed at night I'm reading a thriller--the beginning of the year always seems to find me grasping for thrillers. The only other time of year I condescend to them is when we experience blistering heat. In any case, this one is Mr. Nobody by Catherine Steadman, an  English author, who is also an actress who appeared in Downton Abbey. Psychological suspense in spades here! But I'm only 75 pages in and the book is more than 350 pages, so I can't deliver a verdict yet.