A – Z of TBRs: P, Q and R

I’m now up to P, Q and R in my A – Z of TBRs, a series of posts in which I take a fresh look at some of my TBRs to inspire me to read more of them, or maybe to decide not to bother reading them after all. This time I’ve included one e-book.

– is for The Power House by John Buchana book I’ve had since 2014. I bought this book because I’d read and enjoyed John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps.

The Power House

It’s a short book of just 108 pages and my copy has an introduction by Stella Rimington. She writes:

The Power House is one of the least known of Buchan’s mature works, a tale without a plot, and so full of holes that it calls to mind Samuel Johnson’s definition of a ‘network’ – ‘anything reticulated and desuccated at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections’. It is pure essence of Buchan – a demonstration of his magical power to weave a tale out of no materials but the threads and colours of his imagination.

When his friend Charles Pitt-Heron vanishes mysteriously, Sir Edward Leithen, MP, is at first only mildly concerned. But a series of strange events that follow Pitt-Heron’s disappearance convinces Leithen that he is dealing with a sinister secret society. Their code name is ‘The Power-House’.

I cast my mind back to gather recollections of Pitt-Heron, but all I could find was an impression of a brilliant, uncomfortable being, who had been too fond of the byways of life for my sober tastes. There was nothing crooked in him in the wrong sense, but there might be a good deal that was perverse. I remember consoling myself with the thought that, though he might shatter his wife’s nerves by his vagaries, he would scarcely break her heart.

To be watchful, I decided, was my business. And I could not get rid of the feeling that I might soon have cause for my vigilance. (page 9)

Q – is for The Queen’s Man by Sharon Penman (on my Kindle for two years). I bought this after reading her Sunne in Splendour, which I absolutely loved.

The Queen's Man

It’s set in AD 1183, when Richard the Lionheart is missing, thought to be dead and his brother Prince John is scheming to take the Crown. Justin de Quincy has just discovered his father is the Bishop of Chester. A dying man, a goldsmith, gives him a letter to deliver to Queen Eleanor, (Richard’s and John’s mother) which brings him into great danger as it reveals whether Richard is alive or dead.

Captured by Henry’s soldiers, she [Eleanor] was held prisoner for sixteen years, freed only by Henry’s death. Such a lengthy confinement would have broken most people. It had not broken Eleanor. The passionate young queen and the embittered, betrayed wife were ghosts long since laid to rest. Now in her seventy-first year, she was acclaimed and admired for her sagacity and shrewd counsel, reigning over England in her son’s absence, fiercely protective of his interests, proud matriarch of a great dynasty. A living legend. And this was the woman expecting a letter from a murdered goldsmith? Justin thought it highly unlikely. (location 323)

R– is for Resistance by Owen Sheers a book I’ve had for nearly ten years. One of the reasons I haven’t read this before now is that I couldn’t find it for a while until I discovered it out of order behind other books that I’d double-shelved. I can’t remember now what had prompted me to buy this book. Owen Sheers is an author, poet and playwright.

Resistance

Resistance gives an alternative outcome to World War Two, one in which the D-Day landings had failed in 1944 and the Nazis had invaded the UK. Sarah Lewis wakes to discover her husband and all the men in the Welsh border valley of Olchon have gone. It’s the story of a community under siege.

The meeting with Atkins had happened too quickly for George to think on the consequences yet. His head was light, open, and he swung his scythe with a renewed energy. He felt exposed, as if a layer of skin had been shaved from him, bringing him into closer contact with the world. The blade’s edge against the young stalks of bracken, the calligraphy of the swallows above him. Everything seemed clearer, brought into sharper focus. Just an hour ago the war was a different country, the contours of which he’d traced through the newspapers, in radio reports. But now he was involved, connected. He had the strange sensation of his life simultaneously diminishing and expanding under the impression of Atkins’s words and for the second time that week he felt older than his seventeen years. (page 25)

What do you think? Do you fancy any of them? Would you ditch any of them?

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman

Richard III (1452 – 1485), that controversial king – what was the truth about him? Did he murder his nephews, the ‘Princes in the Tower’, was he deformed, with a withered arm, a hunch back and a limp as Shakespeare portrayed him, was he a cold-blooded, evil villain? Or has he been maligned and been turned into a  monster who killed his brother’s sons in order to take the Crown?

I remembered merely the brief details about the Wars of the Roses, the conflict between the house of York and Lancaster for the throne of England,  from my school history lessons and only became interested in Richard III years later when I read Alison Weir’s non-fictional The Princes in the Tower, which examined the available evidence and came to the conclusion that Richard III was responsible for their deaths. Some years later I read Josephine Tey’s novel The Daughter of Time, which also investigates his role in the death of his nephews and his own death at the Battle of Bosworth and concluded that Richard hadn’t murdered his nephews.

The discovery of his skeleton buried beneath a car park in Leicester in 2012 revealed that although ‘the curved spine on the skeleton does show he had Scoliosis, he did not have a withered arm or other details attributed to him in some characterisations’ (see the Incredible Discovery at the King Richard III Visitor Centre ).

But it wasn’t the discovery of his skeleton that nudged me into reading  The Sunne in Splendour, Sharon Penman’s detailed historical novel, first published in 1982. It was watching A Game of Thrones, which is based in part on the Wars of the Roses – Stark and Lannister/York and Lancaster etc.

1192920The Sunne in Splendour is a fascinating novel about his life from his childhood to his death at Bosworth Field in 1485. Much has been written about Richard, from the time of his death onwards, that Sharon Penman points out has to be considered in the light of the writers’ bias, stating in her Author’s Note at the end of the book:

I once came upon the definition of history as ‘the process by which complex truths are transformed into simplified falsehoods’. That is particularly true in the case of Richard III, where the normal medieval proclivity for moralizing and partisanship was further complicated by deliberate distortion to suit Tudor political needs.’ (page 884)

She states that she had tried to be as accurate as possible, drawing upon facts that are not in dispute, relying on contemporary chroniclers, and when dealing with conflicting accounts ‘to choose the one most in accord with what we know of the people involved.’ 

I think this is one of the best historical novels that I’ve read. It is full of detail, but her research sits very lightly in this book, none of it feels like a history lesson, and it all brings Richard’s world to life. Penman portrays a very likeable Richard, from his childhood onwards he comes across as a kind, generous and brave man, a skilled leader on the battlefield, a loving husband to his wife, Anne, and devoted and loyal to his brother, Edward IV, who was by no means a saint. I particularly liked the way Penman showed his relationship with his family, especially with his brothers Edward and George, the Duke of Clarence.

I could easily visualise the battle scenes, that eventually brought the Wars of the Roses to an end and was fascinated by the view of Henry Tudor (Henry VII) – I’d like to know more about him. It’s his view of Richard that prevailed after his accession to the throne. During his life Richard he had a good reputation and was loved, particularly in the North of England. But he fell victim to treachery and intrigue.

One of the drawbacks of reading historical fiction is that if you have any knowledge of the period you know the eventual outcome. Penman’s skill is such that even though I knew Richard was killed at the battle of Bosworth Field I kept hoping he would survive and defeat Henry Tudor.

As for her solution to who killed the princes, that is one spoiler I’m not going to reveal – I was convinced though by her version of events. I think The Sunne in Splendour is a brilliant book, I was absolutely gripped by it and was sad when I came to the end. It’s a long book, nearly 900 pages and it took me a while to read it, but never once did I think it was too long, or needed editing. I loved it.

Reading Challenges: Mount TBR Reading Challenge – a book I’ve left too long unread as it’s been on my shelves for 5 years!

Sunday Salon – Historical Fiction

Historical fiction has long been a favourite genre and although these days I seem to be reading more crime fiction, it still has an irresistible draw for me. So, I was really pleased when my son gave me The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman as a Mother’s Day present today. It’s about the life and times of Richard III. I find Richard a fascinating person, accused of killing his nephews and I’ve read about him from Shakespeare’s play, Richard III to Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time and Alison Weir’s non-fictional The Princes in the Tower. Now I can become immersed in the period of the Wars of the Roses to Richard’s death at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

More historical fiction came to my attention this morning when I read that the Walter Scott Prize Shortlist has been announced. This is the 2nd Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. Last year’s prize was won by Hilary Mantel for her novel, Wolf Hall. the winner will be announced on June 18th at the Borders Book Festival at Melrose.

The shortlist for the 2011 award is:

  • The Long Song by Andrea Levy
  • C by Tom McCarthy
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
  • Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor
  • Heartstone by C J Sansom
  • To Kill A Tsar by Andrew Williams

The only one of these I’ve read is – Heartstone by C J Sansom. This is Sansom’s fifth book in his 16th century England, Matthew Shardlake series. Heartstone is set in 1545 as England goes to war with France. I thought it was good but not as good as his earlier books, but it is very good on the details of life in Tudor times. Sansom’s research is excellent, his characters are well drawn and the atmosphere and sense of place are convincing.

Andrea Levy’s The Long Song is the next book for discussion at my Book Club at the end of this month, so I’ll be reading it soon. I haven’t read any of Andrea Levy’s four earlier books so I don’t know what to expect. It’s set in Jamaica as slavery came to an end. At the back of my copy there is Bonus Material – Andrea Levy writes about how she came to write The Long Song. I think I’ll start by reading that.

I know very little about the other books, but as I wasn’t too keen on Tom McCarthy’s Remainder and I gave up twice with David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, both of which I know other people rated highly, I may pass on those.  That leaves Joseph O’Connor’s Ghost Light which does sound appealing and I’ve downloaded a sample on Kindle to find out more. This article in The Scotsman has more details.