Milkman – Anna Burns

Its Man Booker season and I again have my hands on the shortlist.

First out of the pile was Milkman, a novel about an unnamed character in an unnamed city. However I read it as Belfast, as I felt it was meant to be read. Our heroine, middle sister, is navigating a complex social structure where failure doesn’t just impact friendships, but is a matter of life and death.

But as she wanders through her life, trying to remain detached, the milkman takes an interest in her. From that moment onwards she discovers that the safety of her detached life is a facade, and begins to learn who within the community can and can’t be relied upon. The threat of violence is ever-present, and divisions between areas are strongly felt.

But just as the tension ramps up, the mother becomes a figure of light relief, as she courts the real milkman whom she has loved for years.

Not one I would have picked up, but definitely worth reading, especially against the current political backdrop with changes to the Irish border being considered.

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The Last Tango in Whitby – Chorley Little Theatre

Back to school week, but the pensioners are off on their summer holiday for the Last Tango in Whitby. A light-hearted fun play, poking fun at characters who can easily be part of everyone’s lives. The play has it all: the bore, interfering busy-bodies, party animals, and downtrodden friends.

As the title implies, there is (hilarious!) dancing, but very little singing, as the characters enjoy their annual group holiday and reshape their relationships.

A good start to the autumn season by CADOS.

The Silk Roads – Peter Frankopan (Audiobook)

With a long roadtrip planned, we borrowed an eaudiobook from the library to listen to on the journey. Going through the non-fiction options, this history looked likely to teach us something new.

The Silk Roads promises to provide a new history of civilisation with a focus away from the West and instead focus on the “centre of the world”, stretching from the Mediterranean across Asia. Given that, I was expecting little mention of Europe. However there was constant framing against European history, and Persia’s history was nearly all described as a struggle with Rome.

At least the Age of European Empires gives agency to non-European actors, and acknowledges mistakes and atrocities committed by the powers. The realisation of the confidence trick of empire along with the view of World War One as the conflict between empires and the trigger for the unraveling of the same empires.

The shifting power balances and growth of anti-Americanism throughout the second half of the twentith centenary is also examined through the prism of short-term decision making: nearly every decision being made for the correct immediate reasons, but without consideration for long-term impacts.

The conclusions were bizarre. After China had been mostly ignored for the body of the book, it was suddenly vital in  setting the new agenda. If so important, why had it been left out for so much of the previous 24 hours?

Overall, an interesting history, but much more West-focused than the blurb suggests.

Birth of a Theorem: A Mathematical Adventure – Cédric Villani

Villani is a charismatic character who, contrary to the popular image of a mathematician, owes much of his success to collaboration with colleagues. Birth of a Theorem sets out the work necessary to develop his ideas into a full proof, and work is definitely the correct word. He details late nights and long days, emails exchanged on Christmas day, and the frantic development of ideas for conference deadlines.

Villani’s trajectory through academia is impressive, as is to be expected from a Field’s medal winner, and the insight into how much was down to chance meetings and hard work is fantastic. This was also the book that has encouraged me to return to my dream of undertaking a PhD, although not in pure mathematics as I might have expected aged 18.

My only complaint is that my LATEX was never that great, and now is beyond rusty, and I would have expected all the equations in this popular maths book to be displayed in conventional notation, rather than having to do the mental work of converting the TEX script and then understanding the equations, in a field which I don’t have much knowledge of. Somewhere where the editor should maybe have stepped in. But the translation (from French) is very good.

I’m also back to thinking about the Collatz Conjecture again, although even less likely to find a route to a solution than I was a decade ago.

This is not the sort of book I expect to find in my local public library,  but am very glad I stumbled across it there.

The Fever Tree – Jennifer McVeigh

The Fever Tree was recomended to me by my Mum, after she read it as a book club book. I can certainly see why it is popular with book clubs, lots of quotable passages, historical setting, topical themes. But although it has lots of discussion points, this is not a book I enjoyed.

Frances is the most hopelessly self-obsessed heroine I have ever had the misfortune to read about, and only redeems herself a little in the last few chapters, when she learns the value of hard work and loyalty. Until then she is beyond frustrating, never talking to her husband or working to improve their lot.

Not a book I’d recommend to anyone wanting a pleasant read (I advised my aunt not to borrow it), but definitely one that could start discussions.

Twisting the Rope – R. A. MacAvoy

Despite being a good story, Twisting the Rope was a bit of a disappointment as it played less with the idea of Mayland Long as mythical beast. It did feel like MacAvoy wanted to play further with a different type of story but had been expected to produce another Mayland Long book so wrote this story with him and Martha in place. Not to mention the very eighties cover this had with a bikini-clad woman on the cover.

The main mystery was brilliant though, with so many possible motives and a very peculiar setting. I enjoyed how all the pieces fell together for the ending, and intend to reread.

Have you read any jarring sequels recently?

The Three Musketeers – Williamson Park/Dukes Theatre

Dukes Theatre have foudn a brilliant idea for open air theatre: rather than having the audience sit static, they follow the play to different locations within the park. The play drifts from a rural setting, to Parisian marketplace, to ballroom. There was also a fun mix of professional actors and amateurs aiding the scene transitions and interacting with the audience as we moved around.

I had expected a more traditional three musketeers plot, but this one spent much of the time playing with gender identity and enjoying modern culture.

Despite some rain showers, we had a fun evening, and look forward to seeing what the Duke put on next summer.

Aspects of Love – Hope Mill Theatre

Back to Pollard Street for a classic Andrew Lloyd Webber musical that I’d never before seen on stage. I was familiar with both of the main themes though.

A emotional journey, Aspects of Love pulls on the heart strings as we were taken on a whirlwind journey of looking at the ties of love between family members. The heights and depths which they are carried to, and the importance of loyalties.

A memory of a happy moment –
That’s what this week will one day be.
Life goes on,
Love goes free.

Rather than the traditional orchestra, it was arranged for two pianos plus percussion. The music was fabulous, the actors sang well, and were captivating and acted well. The set was creatively laid out with Louvre doors swinging back and forth giving depth to the set and whirling chairs providing the impression of movement.

Both the musical director and producer are old friends. Its delightful to see them both doing so well.

 

Invisible Planets – Ken Liu

I had been warned by a friend that this collection wasn’t as good as the cover suggested, and that he had had difficulty getting into it. Therefore I started towards the end, on the grounds that those stories were the ones he hadn’t got to. With it framed as such, I found the stories I picked out to be very satisfying.

Having read Taking Care of God, I requested The Three-Body Problem from the library.

Folding Beijing‘s win of the Hugo-award was well-earned. It was simultaneously social commentary on the division of wealth, opportunities and urban space, and a science-fiction adventure with Lao Dao risking his life for a task.

Well-worth flicking through.

5 Days in May – Andrew Adonis

When the general election in 2010 returned no overall control, Adonis had a pivotal role in trying to negotiate Labour into coalition. This looks at how the pieces fell, and what influence the Lib Dems had in the coalition was shaped.

Adonis writes well, giving a fast-paced book that contains depth and interest in what could otherwise be a very dry and dull set of negotiations. Then as he felt unable to publish at the time due to his political position, he takes the opportunity to include an epilogue as to how the coalition worked in reality.

An interesting read for anyone who wants an insight into contemporary politics.