Book Notes

I’ve been reading more than writing recently and there are four books that I have yet to write about on this blog. One of my reasons for writing is to remember more details of what I’ve read and to crystallise my thoughts about the books. But as it has been some time now since I read these I’m just going to write short notes on two of them.

This book follows on from Achebe’s Things Fall Apart being the third book about the family of Okonkwo in Nigeria from the time of European colonisation up to the 1950s. No Longer at Ease is set in the 1950s. Obi Okonkwo has been educated in England and returns to Lagos where he works as a civil servant. He has a fiancée, Clara and a lot of expectations to live up to from his family and tribe who paid for him to study in England. He soon falls victim to the corruption in the city and upsets his family, who disapprove of Clara. This is the story of pressure from a changing world that Obi doesn’t understand and struggles to adjust to.  It’s a downward spiral and a sense of foreboding pervades the whole book.  I preferred Things Fall Apart which I’d read quite a while ago now.

This is the first in the Isabel Dalhousie series. I’ve read a few of the later ones before getting to this one, which does fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge of Isabel’s background. It is really better to read these books in order.

Isabel is a philosopher and the editor of the Review of Applied Ethics and as you would expect from this the book is packed with Isabel’s thoughts on the events that take place. I really like the gentle pace of these books and reflecting on the points made. It actually begins dramatically with the death of a young man who falls from the upper circle of the Usher Hall where Isabel had been at a concert. She saw him fall and becomes convinced that he had been pushed.

I like the mix of Isabel’s reflections and her concern over her actions and their consequences. I like the characters – Grace, Isabel’s down to earth housekeeper, Cat her niece who seems to go from one unsuitable boyfriend to the next, and particularly Jamie, Cat’s ex-boyfriend. I noted a few questions raised by Isabel’s reflections – questions about the nature of lying, whether there are good lies and bad lies, the blurring of truth and falsehood, what moral obligations do we have to other people, forgiveness, and hypocrisy.  Isabel finds it

… intellectually exciting to become involved. She wanted to know why things happened. She wanted to know why people did the things they did. She was curious. And what she wondered was wrong with that? (page 78)

And that’s why I like this book and the other Isabel Dalhousie books so much.

The other books I’ve read and not yet written about are both by S J Bolton – Awakening  and Blood Harvest. They are both great books, which I’ll write about soon.

Book Beginnings

Today I finished reading Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates. It has taken me several weeks to read it and I fancy a complete change and a shorter book!

So, I’m thinking of reading No Longer at Ease by Chinua Achebe, which begins:

For three or four weeks Obi Okonkwo had been steeling himself against this moment. And when he walked into the dock that morning he thought he was fully prepared. He wore a smart palm-beach suit and appeared unruffled and indifferent. The proceeding seemed to be of little interest to him. Except for one brief moment at the very beginning when one of the counsel had got into trouble with the judge. (page 1)

This is my copy which I bought several years ago from a second-hand bookshop somewhere, after reading its predecessor Things Fall Apart, whose hero was Obi’s grandfather. I thought Things Fall Apart was an amazing book and one that had made a great impression on me, so why haven’t I read No Longer at Ease before now?

From the blurb on the back cover I see that Obi has returned to Nigeria from studying in England. He is a civil servant with a respectable job and a fiancée, but despite the expectations of his family and tribe he falls victim to the corruption of Lagos. It promises to be a study of the cultural change in Nigeria during the 1950s.

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Katy, at ‘˜A Few More Pages’.