REVIEW: THE HIGH GROUND BY MELINDA SNODGRASS

The High Ground by Melinda Snodgrass (Titan Books, 2016)

When I was a child I loved the breakfast cereal Ready Brek – instant porridge whose television advertisements used to feature a young boy protected from the winter elements by a warm glow of healthy goodness. I would eat Ready Brek for breakfast, supper and, basically, whenever I could persuade someone to give me a bowl. If I’d had my way I might have eaten nothing but Ready Brek. Recently, in a moment of nostalgic weakness, I thought I’d revisit my childhood obsession and made myself a bowl. I’m not sure what my seven-year-old-self saw in the stuff, but I can tell you that I was left wondering why anyone would eat this flavourless, textureless, pap.

Melinda Snodgrass’s The High Ground is a lot like Ready Brek – easy to consume and familiar but also bland and unappealing. Unlike Ready Brek this book does not leave the reader with a warm, protective glow. Continue reading

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REVIEW: WITCHES OF LYCHFORD BY PAUL CORNELL (AND A RANT ABOUT CLASS)

Those she talked to who wanted the store to come here had hardly embraced evil. They talked about how hard things were, how they needed to shop more cheaply without spending a lot of money on petrol, how they and their relatives needed the jobs Sovo would provide. There was something of a class divide there. Those who weren’t well off tended to back the store on the basis of economic survival.

As Lizzie had seen so many times with victims, the harder your life had been, the harder it was to give yourself room for ethical choices.
(Witches of Lychford, p103)

 

“Victims” – remember the word “victims”.

I’m going to start with two apologies – or one apology and one partial apology. First, I apologise for starting a review with a longish quote from the book I am reviewing. I’ve always thought this is a bit lazy, but it’s no exaggeration to say that these two paragraphs made me so angry – punch walls and slap innocent bystanders angry – that I thought it was worth pulling them out and considering them in detail. And, second, I apologise, in advance for writing a review that won’t talk much about the plot, writing or anything else within the covers of Paul Cornell’s Witches Of Lychford except the way it talks about class.

Actually, I’m not really apologising for that one. Consider it more of a warning about what is to come.

I don’t imagine Paul Cornell will be bothered that I was annoyed by his book. This little novella has been very popular, warmly reviewed, award nominated and the basis for not just a sequel but also a soon-to-be-released third book. Lychford and its witches appear to becoming the foundation of an ongoing series. And Cornell writes well enough – his style is restrained and understated (English, you might even say), there’s nowhere where the writing really takes flight stylistically, but nowhere either where you’d be offended by the gratuitously stupid. If you like this sort of thing, and people evidently do, there’s no reason why you won’t like this.

In Witches of Lychford an idyllic English market town, nestled in the Cotswolds, faces an existential threat – the arrival of Sovo, a big-brand supermarket. But not just any big-brand supermarket. Sovo is, literally, the work of the devil and the only people that can stop the defiling of Lychford – this other Eden, this demi-paradise – are three women of various varieties of witchiness: old-style, new age and Church of England. Continue reading

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BOOK REVIEW: OCCUPY ME BY TRICIA SULLIVAN

occupy-me-by-tricia-sullivanThe overwhelming sensation left at the end of Tricia Sullivan’s strange, awkward, new novel is of things straining and stretching and struggling to be free. This is true of the characters, all of whom seem to be constantly pushing against something literal and/or metaphorical, but also true of the book itself – it feels as though the story, the very fabric of the book is stretching and struggling to contain itself. There’s so much packed in here, and at such conflicting, awkward angles, that it’s as though the paperback covers might, at any moment, tear themselves asunder and the whole lot will flop, exhausted and spoilt, on to the floor. That Sullivan juggles it all so deftly, so that disaster is not just avoided but that a sort of triumph is delivered, is to her great credit. But, for the reader, I have to confess, the journey was not always comfortable.

At one level this is a straightforward book – a nowish/near-futurish thriller in which money and oil and intrigue lead characters around the world from exotic locales to, well, Edinburgh. Pace Industries, a rapacious oil company, is trying to recover stolen money and a mysterious briefcase.  The briefcase is in the possession Dr Sorle, the physician who cared for the former oil executive, financier and embezzler – Austen Stevens. But Sorle is also – it quickly emerges – something much stranger than that. And, behind all the thriller elements, driving itself to the surface through the book’s thin skin, is a story about time travel, a giant flying dinosaur, alien birds whose habits include collecting the “waveforms” of the lost, entropy, the end of the universe and Pearl, the lost angel. Continue reading

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BARBARIANS RISING, HISTORY FALLING

Hannibal Barca
Last night I watched the first episode of The History Channel’s Barbarians Rising. The episode dealt with Hannibal’s invasion of Italy and it was not good. It started with a definition of barbarian (“anyone who was not Greek or Roman”) that would have embarrassed the most imperialist 19th Century historians, but it was actually when it staggered haplessly into an attempt to make links with contemporary concerns that it really fell to pieces.

The decision to try and make a link between Carthage’s war on Rome and the American Civil Rights struggle (Jesse Jackson and Clarence B Jones appear as talking heads) was misguided and badly handled. The lowest point comes when Jones said “it was the barbarians who opposed slavery, they were the first freedom fighters”. Continue reading

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LOOKING FOR CORBYN’S MAGIC MONEY TREE

Jeremy Corbyn set out his 10 point policy plan today – with lots of good intentions in it, though it didn’t quite address the concerns I have about Corbyn offering actual detailed policies – it remained a bit vague. In a speech full of non-specific hand-waving the biggest blur was how it was all to be paid for. I’m a big fan of ambitious investment plans for government, but they do have to be realistic, and Corbyn’s numbers today are pretty wild.

In 2015 the size of the UK economy, measured by nominal GDP, was around £2.2trillion. Corbyn has just promised to spend £500million (half a trillion) over 10 years through a National Investment bank.

This is a pretty astonishing number. That’s a sustained, additional, annual government spending of 2.5% of the current (and since we’re not looking at any economic growth over the next year or two – the near future) size of the UK economy – which is pretty unprecedented. In the crisis year of 2008, the Obama administration dropped that level of money into the US economy – but only for one year.

Asked how he would pay for this investment, Corbyn said it would be paid for by “a stronger economy and by cracking down on tax evasion”. Continue reading

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IT’S ALL JUST A CASE OF (LABOUR’S) HISTORY REPEATING

 


George Eaton’s Tweets (above) made me think about the pattern of Labour history and how the current mess is part of a cycle that goes right back to the very first Labour government. Here’s roughly what happens: Continue reading

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THE POINTLESSNESS OF COMRADE CORBYN

jeremy-corbyn-tuc-conference-september-2015-gestureSo, today, Jeremy Corbyn launched his leadership campaign. It was the opportunity for him to make the case that he was the genuine radical that his supporters have been claiming. To put his case that “Corbynism” was the revolutionary (perhaps that’s too charged a word) change that some see as inevitable if he is re-elected.

The speech, though, was a damp squib. There was almost no content and what there was as neither new nor particularly radical. Continue reading

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WHO WILL REPRESENT THE FORTY-EIGHT PERCENT?

THERE IS LIKELY TO BE A GENERAL ELECTION BEFORE THE TURN OF THE YEAR AND IT IS ALREADY CLEAR THAT THE THREE MOST POPULAR POLITICAL PARTIES – LABOUR, TORY AND UKIP – WILL BE PUTTING FORWARD POLICIES THAT ACCEPT THE UK’S DEPARTURE FROM THE EUROPEAN UNION. WHO WILL REPRESENT THE FORTY-EIGHT PER CENT WHO VOTED TO REMAIN IN THE EU?

The referendum is over but that doesn’t and shouldn’t mean that the fight for Britain’s future in Europe is done. Forty-eight percent of the British people voted to remain in the European Union, and they did so in a campaign that was dominated by Leave promises that are rapidly and very publicly unravelling. There is no pot of gold for the NHS, there is no way to keep the economic benefits of membership of the single market without allowing free movement of labour and there is no magic wand that can be waved to reverse the global flows of migrants.

And, it turns out, all those “scare” stories about the economic impact are coming true. Those pesky experts weren’t lying after all.

The Leave campaign clearly never expected to win and have no immediate plans in place for a managed transition to a future outside the European Union. Boris Johnson, or whichever Brexiter leads the Tories after the summer, will almost certainly want to hold an election believing that, with the Labour Party in disarray, they can achieve their own mandate and a larger majority with which to exert control over a deeply divided party.

And, in this election, we’re going to have a serious problem. Continue reading

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WHY SPIDER-MAN BEING RICH IS A WORSE TREATMENT OF AN ICONIC CHARACTER THAN CAPTAIN AMERICA HAILING HYDRA

article 6So, as the last comic book fan with a blog to express an opinion about Captain America: Steve Rogers No.1, I thought it’s probably necessary that I have a suitably clickbait-style headline so that people might pay some attention. For what it’s worth, though, I do believe that the current treatment of Peter Parker is worse (more disrespectful to the character, less interesting and less smart) than what appears to be in store for Steve Rogers, and I’ll come back to that at the end. On this new Captain America, I think that some of the reaction to what is, after all, the first chapter of what seems planned to be an extended story has been ludicrous. And some of the responses to the fact that Captain America utters the dread phrase “Hail Hydra” (and seems to mean in) in the final panel seem to have missed or deliberately ignored everything else on all the other pages of the book. In fact, given the approach to extremism displayed so far, I’m quietly hopeful that this comic is going to go somewhere worthwhile and, perhaps, will deal with extremism in an interesting way rather than blandly restate the usual vapid comic book platitudes. Continue reading

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ELECTIONS, APPLES, ORANGES, MISINFORMATION AND SIDES

A quick follow up to my last post. I’ve had people insist to me that it is perfectly valid to compare the latest local election results with the 2015 elections. So I want to make clear why this simply isn’t true.

Here are the results from the latest local elections presented in a map (see it in all it’s glory at Democratic Dashboard):

2016 actual local election results

2016 local election results

As you can see, there’s a lot of white space on this map. That’s because not everyone in the United Kingdom had the opportunity to vote in these elections.

That’s the main reason why trying to compare this election to the 2015 general election is silly. It’s different boundaries, a different electorate and, in places like Scotland and Wales, it’s even different electoral systems. It is, like your primary school teacher told you, wrong to try and add apples and oranges.

But the other thing it’s worth doing for Labour Party members (at least those who are genuinely interested in getting a clear view of where the party now stands and what we really need to do to win in 2020) is to look at those white spaces and think, for a minute about what kind of England they represent. Continue reading

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