Author Archives: kimmikat



Billy O’Shannessy, once a prominent barrister, is now on the street where he sleeps on a bench outside the State Library. Above him on the window sill rests a bronze statue of Matthew Flinders’ cat, Trim. Ryan is a ten-year-old, a near street kid heading for all the usual trouble. The two meet and form an unlikely friendship. Appealing to the boy’s imagination by telling him the story of the circumnavigation of Australia as seen through Trim’s eyes, Billy is drawn deeply into Ryan’s life and into the Sydney underworld. Over several months the two begin the mutual process of rehabilitation.
Matthew Flinders’ Cat is a modern-day story of a city, its crime, the plight of the homeless and the politics of greed and perversion. It is also a story of the human heart, with an enchanting glimpse into our past from the viewpoint of a famous cat.
Published 2003


I listened to the audio book, an unabridged version and was captivated. The story is a real emotional rollercoaster, inducing feelings of anger, disgust, sympathy, empathy, admiration and tenderness – to name but a few. At the beginning you wonder how an educated man can become reduced to such circumstances, from successful and comparatively wealthy professional to a ‘derelict’ or street person. As the story unfolds you realize that Billy’s past is complicated and heart-breaking as he freely admits he made terrible mistakes, but tear apart some of the carefully cultivated exterior and it is clear that Billy is a tender hearted and honest man, whose regrets about his life’s choices eventually lead him to try and make amends in whatever way he can.

Ryan, an incredibly intelligent little boy has a disadvantaged background yet he works hard to help his drug addict mother and his elderly grandmother. He is resourceful, clever, sometimes cheeky, but he is immensely likable and very real. Billy and Ryan’s friendship is peculiar and unexpected, yet very heart-warming, and Billy’s determination to help the child as he veers toward a dangerous future is unrelenting. Both characters became very real for me and I often felt as if Billy was teaching me about life, a life I knew nothing about, as he travelled on his journey of redemption. I really learned so much about his world and the way alcoholics think and feel, (although one cannot generalize), and also how difficult it is to shake off the problems you encounter once you have sunk this low. With the best will in the world, you’d have to be pretty strong to be able to recover just by yourself. Billy and Ryan highlighted these problems. Every city in every country has these issues to one degree or another, but how often do we turn a blind eye? Bryce Courtenay doesn’t preach, but he does open our eyes and question whether we feel comfortable in a society which discards people like litter on the street.

Mixed in with the main story is a separate thread about a famous cat, Trim, who belonged to a famous navigator, Matthew Flinders. Flinder’s, although born in Donnington in England, spent much of his working life charting the coast of Australia and he is credited with naming the country. He is therefore a renowned character, as is his cat who accompanied him on his travels. When Ryan expresses an interest in the statue of Trim, Billy begins to tell him the story of the navigator’s cat, and with a cat’s view point and a few elaborations along the way, the story becomes very compelling. It forges a strong relationship between man and boy which proves indestructible and saves them both. At no time did I feel that the outcome of this relationship or the events surrounding it were inevitable. The story twists and turns and the reader is buffeted around, sent reeling from one surprise to another, or suddenly stripped of former beliefs and value systems. The story is gripping, but so too is the tale of Trim and they become ever more entwined until eventually the work of the one is done and saves the other. The lesson in history was appreciated too!

I loved this book. It is possibly the best book I’ve read in many years and I recommend it to everyone who is not afraid to look deep into their own conscience and admit that they too could be Billy, or that they could do more for the many unknown Billies out there in the urban margins. This is a book which tackles important issues and asks questions of politicians and society. I hope that somewhere, someone with the power to change things is listening, and that we as citizens give them our full support.

 Susie (Kimmikat)

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The Blackstone Key by Rose Melikan

The Blackstone Key by Rose Melikan


1795, and a young woman travels in haste from Cambridge to the Suffolk coast. Her name is Mary Finch, and she has been invited to meet her wealthy uncle – and so end a family estrangement that has held fast for more than twenty years. Smart, courageous and blessed with good looks if not good fortune, Mary is excited by the prospect of adventure, and the chance to escape a miserable future teaching at Mrs Bunbury’s school for young ladies. But a whispered warning from a man dying on the road who carries a strangely familiar watch bearing her uncle’s initials, exposes her to a ruthless conspiracy that threatens not only her family’s reputation, but her very life. With England embroiled in a bloody war with Republican France, and spies and smugglers active all along the coast, Mary must learn quickly how to fight for her survival, and to distinguish friend from foe. Can she trust the two men who want to help her? What is their interest in the mysterious Blackstone key? Does it guard a secret treasure, or might it have a more sinister purpose?

If you like historical fiction this is a book you must read. The book description presents a story that could so easily be bland and ordinary, just another story set in an historical context. Don’t be fooled. It isn’t. Rose Melikan has written a first class adventure story, set in the 1795 when England was at war with France and with a young girl as the central character. What brings this story to life is the author’s meticulous research into the period, its context and the growing pains of a young woman suddenly challenged in ways that are unheard of in her own previously sheltered life. The descriptions of the life and times are vivid and capture the imagination, bringing the story to life. Melikan must have researched thoroughly to be able to come up with such detailed descriptions of coach timetables and routes, architecture, the dress shop, the countryside and its public houses and the legal framework with which much of the story is held together. Add to that a spicy gunpowder plot, a touch of romance, some unexpected twists and turns and it all becomes a gripping novel.

The characters are interesting in their own rights, as each is not what they seem. Mary Finch changes before our eyes. She was always intelligent and soft-hearted, but whereas at the beginning of the story she is immature and somewhat naïve, by the end of the story, which is two weeks later, her life experiences have shaped the beginnings of a very well rounded sensible young woman. The writing of her character is initially almost childish, but although she retains some of the innocence of childhood, she progresses beyond her youthful thoughts and actions as she becomes interested in the two men who enter her life and begins to realize that life is more complex than she had first thought. The other characters are deliberately misleading, but as the story unfolds, their personalities unfold and we become confused as Mary is until all is revealed at the end.

I loved this book and its length, over 400 pages, did not put me off, even though I am a slow reader. The historical context was interesting, the story good and the descriptions very good. So, I say again…this is not a book to be missed. Go get it! (And no…I don’t work for the publishers or author!)


May 2008

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Betjeman, by A.N.Wilson

Betjemin by A.N.Wilson.

John Betjeman was by far the most popular poet of the 20th century. His collected poems sold over two million copies. Television audiences loved his quirky evocations of landscape and architecture. As Poet Laureate, he became a national icon, but behind the public man were doubts and demons. The poet led a tempestuous emotional life. For much of his 50-year marriage to Penelope Chetwode, the daughter of a field marshal, Betjeman had a relationship with Elizabeth Cavendish, the daughter of the Duke of Devonshire and lady in waiting to Princess Margaret. This book was written using the vast archive of personal material relating to Betjeman’s private life.


John Betjeman, poet, champion of architectual conservation and deeply religious man was born in 1906, the only child of a cabinet maker in Highgate, London. This biography by his friend, A.N.Wilson traces the origins of these passions and tries to define the man who, though loved by all who knew him, was hindered throughout his life by self doubt and guilt and a love affair with love.
Like most others of my generation, I was familiar with Betjeman’s deceptively simple verse that seemed somehow to speak of everyday things with candid honesty and unabashed emotion. I also knew that Betjemin was interested in architecture, beacause of his numerous television appearances and programmes, but I hadn’t realised the scope of this passion, nor the importance for him of the prevservation of buildings and the old England he loved so much. His life seemed to be a quest for the way things were…his poetry reflected this, and everyone is familiar with poems such as ‘Slough’ wherein JB bemoans the state of the New Town and prays for ‘friendly bombs’ to demolish it as it is no longer fit for humans! I knew this was an important part of his life, but I had not grasped just how much he cherished the buildings of bygone ages. It is difficult to tell which was more important to JB himself – this desire to preserve and conserve, or his poetry. The two things seem to be intrinsically intertwined.
A third theme throughout his life was his religion, again intrinsic in his writing. He was a devout Anglican and one of the most torturous periods of his life was when his wife, Penelope converted to Catholicism, not least because they had spent much time and energy together working on behalf of the Anglican church. His religious fervour is marked throughout his writing, and is also concentrated around his delight in Churches. From his youth, he travelled the length and breadth of Britain, visiting and admiring churches. It was an interest which never left him until he was confined to a wheelchair and mobility and travelling became more difficult.
A.N.Wilson clearly holds his friend in great esteem and with much affection, but he does not flinch from illustrating JB’s flaws, one of which was women. There seemed to be some controversy as to whehther JB was bisexual. I have to admit to believing he was homosexual before I read the book, and was shocked to find out that he was married for 50 years, until his death, infact, and also had a long time mistress, his live-in partner,  Elizabeth Cavendish, Lady in waiting to princess Margaret. Perhaps I can be forgiven for thinking this, given that his biographer explains that the contraversy over his sexual orientation did not disappear with time, even though there was little to support it. On the contrary, it appears that JB could not leave women alone, and although most of his ‘affairs’ were not consummated, he lived for the thrill of falling in love and admiring a beautiful female. It seems he always had to be in love. As soon as one adoration finished, another started. This flaw, a lack of commitment to his wife, albeit it only physically, as he loved her until he died, can perhaps be traced back to his childhood and the closeness with his mother. Or perhaps it is some desire to gain love from a maternal figure…but his passion for women never ceased, although it bought much pain to the two women who loved him most.
As a result of some of this information, I found my previous perception of Betjeman was somewhat inaccurate, and whilst I had much admired the man who wrote and perfomed Metroland for a television programme, and wrote of his love for Miss Joan Hunter Dunn (A Subaltern’s Love Song), I began to feel as the biography progressed that I didn’t like BJ much at all. Admire, yes, and still enjoy his work, and join in his aspirations to preserve the old, but like…probably not. He came across as weak and selfish. Although A.N.Wilson explains that he was wracked with guilt about the way he treated his wife, over the course of many years, it didn;t stop him repeating the same mistakes over and over and causing much pain to other people. Nor did her learn from his experiences as a child and make good his relationship with his son, Paul, who was treated very shabbily and uncaringly it seems, by both parents. Relationships, especially with family and loved ones are important and should be cherished, and so regretfully JB went down in my estimation. It will not stop me admiring the work of the former poet Laureate but I have to admit that this book changed my feelings about Betjeman in a way I had not expected.
The biography is well written and interesting, although a little repetitive in places. As I listened to the audio version, I cannot quote and illustrate as I would like, but suffice to say that it was a book which shook all my perceptions of this man, and which I enjoyed a great deal. I will read Betjeman’s work from a slightly different perspective from now on.

Susie / Kimmikat

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C’est la Folie by Michael Wright.

One day in late summer, Michael Wright gave up his comfortable South London existence and, with only his long-suffering cat for company, set out to begin a new life. His destination was “La Folie”, a dilapidated 15th century farmhouse in need of love and renovation in the heart of rural France.In a bid to fulfil a childhood dream of becoming a Real Man, he struggles to make the journey from clinically social townie to rugged, solitary paysan. Through his enthusiastic attempts at looking after livestock and coming to terms with the concept of living Abroad Alone, he discovers what it takes to be a man at the beginning of the 21st century.

Michael Wright has written a column about his exploits in La France in the Telegraph with much success and has now written a novel based on these adventures. The novel, C’est La Folie is a wonderfully candid description of his life in France, battling with the natives, and an ancient delapidated farm house, overgrown land, and the hilarious problems of animal husbandry. And…added to all that, we hear about his vintage aeroplane, his piano, his triumphs at the tennis club, and his attempts to socialise and become integrated into the french community.
He decided to up roots and take himself and his cat to France, in an attempt to ‘become a man’ and prove to himself that he could do ‘manly’ things. So, accordingly he recounts his desire to acquire manly tools, which might persuade him to do manly jobs, like the desperate work that needs doing on the farmhouse, just to make it habitable. As the story progresses, we hear him inwardly balking at the idea of chopping wood in the snow, and other manly tasks, yet he does them all, somehow sticking to his guns and proving he can do it, and enjoy it. He discovers he quite likes physical work, once he gets going, and such are the distractions of his new home, he finds no time or inclination to write his novel, (well…mainly because he can’t think how to start it off!)

This book is hilarious. I had the audio copy which is read by Michael Wright himself, and I have to say that even if it had been the most boring book, I’d have listened because his voice and story-telling skills are great. I loved the gentle humour, which popped up so often and so subtly at times that I found myself in danger of missing bits here and there. I loved the fact that there were half a dozen strong themes running throughout which made the stories all the more interesting, and most of all I loved this man’s honesty. He is so self-deprecating, and yet somehow manages to charm everyone, and learns quickly from his mistakes. We find that despite his assertions to the contrary he ia a very able person, and at the end of the book, he is able to realise this for himself and leave the crutches of the past behind and look to the future.
The animals played a major part in the story and the joys and grief as Michael learns about life in the raw are beautifully portrayed, and it would be a stone-hearted person who could shrug at the deaths of Emil the little sheep, or Mary the chicken.
I really enjoyed this book and will enjoy reading it again and hopefully the follow-up, which I believe is planned for release next year (2009). To those who have criticised it as not being a literary work…it isn’t meant to be, not in the sense of an heavy duty tome, but it is a literary work that recounts life and people in the 21st century and all the struggles, hopes, triumphs and loves that keep folk sane and able to get on with their lives. Whether you can relate to his lifestyle or not, you will be able to relate to the man and his steps towards knowing himself a little better, and becoming ‘manly’.
Susie / Kimmikat

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The Fiction Class (Loving books and falling in love, Manhattan style) by Susan Breen


‘You’ve known there was something special about you for a long time, haven’t you?’

On paper, Arabella Hicks is perfectly qualified to teach a creative writing class on the Upper  West Side; as well as being an author herself, she loves fiction, more than anything in the world.

‘You still feel something every time you pick up a book; you still connect to characters in ways you’ve never connected to people you actually know, and you know you’re more than you appear to be. You have to give it one more shot; you have to see if you can be a writer.

But neither her own novel, nor her life are working out quite as she planned, and she is beginning to wonder whether this year’s students will be just as bad, mad and complicated as all the others; whether, as she fears, real life will never be as enjoyable as a really good novel

She is wrong.


This debut novel by fiction teacher Susan Breen is different from most romantic novels, in that it attempts to enlighten the reader by showing the world of the author. In itself that is perhaps not earth-shattering, but when your world is all about books and writing, it is something different to the average reader. However, that said, (and ‘different’ is good), it may be one of the downfalls of the book. I am not sure how many readers would be interested in a writing class, and the exercises that go with it. At the end of each chapter covering the evening class, Ms Breen writes down the homework, and the reader, if interested, can make use of this. A good idea for aspiring writers, but I am not convinced that the avid romance reader will be impressed.
The book has several themes, notably disability and illness and the caring responsibilities attached to this situation: then there is the difficult relationship between mother and daughter; impending death; the romance; writing; the growth of the protagonist’s self-awareness and confidence, and faith – a steady thread throughout the book, which in a way is the glue that holds it together.

Initially I had problems with the characters. The main character, Arabella, didn’t come alive for me until well into the second half of the book. I am not sure why she remained transparent, but she wasn’t real for me.  Once fleshed out and more believable, she stayed with me long after I’d finished reading the book. Her mother, Vera Hicks, was the only character who seemed believable. I’m not sure why. Whereas Arabella was a little too ‘goody-goody’, her mother was nasty, cruel and unfeeling, yet you felt sorry for her and could relate to how you thought she might be feeling, given her past life. Arabella was a bit like a character from  an historical romance, a young woman from the Regency period perhaps, demure and sweet, and in the background. She was, after all, named after a character (and book) written by the romantic novelist Georgette Heyer, so perhaps this was deliberate on the part of the author, and in true Jane Austen style, we see the awakening and strenghening of the female protagonist’s character as the story progresses. I read Georgette Heyer in my teens and am now going to re-read her, having had my memory jogged! The other characters, Chuck her patient lover, and her students, were interesting to a degree, but a little clichéd, I felt,  and I found myself confused by the sheer number. I began to mix them up.

I liked the originality of the story, and the boldness of some of the ideas and the questions arising from them, such as the daunting moral dilemma of whether a parent should be sent to a nursing home, or cared for at home, and the contrast between Arabella’s decision to do the latter, whilst her mother had given up her life to care for her husband at home. Arabella’s vague awareness that things are not always as they appear is given a sharp jolt as reality hits hard in some of her students lives. I felt that the reminder about disability became too invasive and whiny. It was in danger of being over stated. It is something I feel strongly about too, having been a carer, but I began to get irritated as I felt that it was used too many times in the book and the impact was lost. However, the idea of a woman’s faith keeping her together (no matter that it was a belief in a miracle) was important, and illustrated Vera’s humanity in a way that contrasted with her daughter’s genuine and gentle honesty, a humanity which could so easily have been her ruin.

I wasn’t sure about the book at first, as the first few chapters were slow and seemed repetitive, and the inclusion of exercises could have put people off. By the end of the book I was convinced that it worked, and was sad to finish it, and the characters did stay with me for a while afterwards which is always a good sign. I noted that there were many parallels between the author and her protagonist, (auto-biographic?) and hope that Arabella’s good fortune will perhaps rub off on her creator’s pen. I would certainly be happy to read any second novel that Ms Breen might produce and wish her well in her writing.

Susan Breen lives in New York with her husband and children and teaches fiction at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop in Manhattan

Susie -Kimmikat

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The House in the Forest – Michelle Desbordes


In her cottage in the French countryside, an old woman receives an unexpected visitor: a boy whispering in an unfamiliar language,and bringing sheaves of paper, in the letters and jottings of her youngest son. Sometime before – and not even the locals who relate the story can remember how long – her son had done as she had told him , and left to seek his fortune on a Carribean island. Once there, the promised wealth had disastrously eluded him – and now, not far from the old woman’s cottage, the locals see a mysterious stranger, with a boy and a dog, carrying planks into the woods to build a place to live…

“Désbordes seeks to show that there is no such thing as an ending, that-like life itself-stories repeat themselves…her writing resembles an extended poem with an incantory quality, like a French version of Eliot’s Four Quartets.”(Observer)

This book is probably very different from any other book you have read, and, it has to be said, will not be to everyone’s taste. When I began reading the first chapter, it was not long before I questioned myself. Did I really need to read this, or want to read it? It wasn’t the content that was the problem. It was the style of writing, which at first appears to be almost totally without punctuation. However, after persisting with it a while longer, I realised that this is the whole point of the book. The commentary from the locals that the critic from the Observer said resembled an incantory style, for me was more like the chorus in some of the Greek plays of the past. The voices tell the story from their perspective, but speculating all the time on the thoughts and feelings of the three main characters, the woman, her son and the young boy. Each voice is given a chance to describe what they see and understand, and you hear it all in a semi-jumbled form as if listening to a crowd of people all talking at once, randomly all telling the same story. The narrative is repetitious, and at first I found this tedious, but later enjoyed it, as I was intriqued to see how the author could say the same thing over and over, yet each time, alter or add something minutely, giving away a few more details, or changing the mood or tone of the narrative a little. This very clever style, for me, embodied the message of the story…that life, and all the stories, events and seasons are neverending. No one story ever ends completely before it is begun again, and then again, just as the winter never quite ends, but repeats year after year. Because of this, life and time itself merge into one long amorphous story, where humans become lost and entangled, losing individuality, and sense of purpose. The same things happen, the same questions are asked, and the same answers given. The same feelings are expressed, and the same opinions, but nothing changes, as everything is cyclical like the seasons and each life ends with the start of another.

The story is deceptively simple. The young man goes to seek his fortune in a foreign land, at the behest of his mother, is away for twenty or more years, but does not find the wealth he seeks and returns. He does not look for his mother, but builds a shack in a copse nearby and shortly afterwards succumbs to the illness which has stalked him persistantly throughout his journey home. Despite this outward simplicity, I found that there were many questions I wanted to ask. They had no proof that the man was who they thought he was. It was all supposition. There are lots of unanswered questions about his relationship with his mother. What had happened to the other sons? Why would a mother ask her son to do something like this in the first place? Many many questions arising from this short narrative, but which make us question are own beliefs about the world around us and our perception of it, and our perceptions about how others see it and respond to it. Is this indeed a story that has been repeated over the centuries, time after time, in many continents? Is it something that goes on all the time, but we lose sight of it in all the details of everyday life?

I really liked this book, but it did take me a couple of chapters to get into it and understand the authors style. Once I had grasped the concept I thorougly enjoyed it and look forward to reading more from this author, whose debut novel La Demande (The Maid’s Request) was published to great critical acclaim. 

Susie 6/01/08


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A Puffin Quartet of Poets



ISBN 0 14 03.0121 6 First Pub by Penguin Books Ltd 1958  Editor Kay Webb.

‘A Puffin Quartet containing substantial selections from the poems of four of our finest writers of children’s verse:

with notes on the authors and their methods of composing’.

From inside cover –

“A Puffin Quartet of Poets.
This unusual anthology contains a selection of poems from the work of only four poets, but four of the finest contemporary writers of children’s verse. A substantial amount from the work of each is given, enough to show their individual quality and special characteristics.The quartet is made up of, Eleanor Farjeon, James Reeves, E.V.Rieu and Ian Serraillier. There are brief biographical notes and a short introduction to each section suggesting how these poets go to work. Their methods of approach to verse-making prove, in fact, to be so diverse that together they cast much interesting light on the whole subject of composition.”

This little book is probably wholly responsible for my love of poetry. It was given to me when a small child and I loved it. As soon as I could read, I devoured these poems over and over again, revelling in their humour and pathos, and the variety of themes and styles. Of the four poets, I loved James Reeves the best, and having reread the book this week, I can see why. As a musician in the making, I loved his rythmns. In ‘Run a Little’ the rythmn is clear and easy for a child to catch and I remember reading it and then singing it to a made-up tune. Likewise, ‘A Pig-Tale’ had an engaging lilt, like a nursery rhyme, which I found very attractive and read to myself purely for the rhythmn rather than the content.Some of the poems were favuorites because of the subject, like ‘Cows’. Being a country girl, and very fond of cows, this poem really appealed to me along with any poems about animals, such as ‘The Two Mice’ and ‘The Snail’. Young as I was, I also understood the metaphor of the sea maskerading as a dog in the poem called ‘The Sea’. This was perhaps a more grown up poem, giving me a little insight into the possibilities of poetry and preparing me for something a little more complex.

E.V.Rieu had me enthralled by his humourous poems, such as ‘Mr Blob’ and ‘Sir Smashmam Uppe’ and the cleverness of ‘A musical  at Home’ stretched my vocabulary and teased my brain as I realised the connections between the characters, their names and their given attributes. However, not surprisingly for a little girl, my heart went out to the very sad little hippo in ‘The Hippopotamus’s Birthday’. I remember being able to relate to the hippo’s sadness and crying for him. This was the poem I remembered all these years later, such was the impact, when I picked up the book again. Then there are poems that seemed to have little or no effect on me as a child. Perhaps I didn’t understand them on the first reading and didn’t attempt to read and understand them later. One good poem in this category would be ‘The Green Train’ which I have not remembered, as it was a little deeper and more meaningful than some of the others.

‘Mrs Malone’ was my favourite of Eleanor Farjeon’s poems, and I enjoyed re-reading it again. The story is about the generous humanity of a woman who takes in starved animals, even though she is very poor herself. Animals again! Also ‘Cat’…a poem guaranteed almost to be loved by a little girl. Ian Serrailier’s ‘Girls and Boys Come out to Play’ is enjoyable because of the references to nursery rhyme characters, but although it is very cleverly written, I am not sure that children today will recognise some of the rhymes and the fairy tale characters. I grew up with the rhyme about the crooked man, but again, perhaps contemporay children have not. Surely they could not fail to enjoy the story or the repitition of words; or the notion of everything and everybody being crooked.

The anthology was published in the fifties and many of the poems were written before then. As a result some of the poetry is a little dated, but most of it travels well and children can easily relate to poems that are nonsensical or about subjects they recognise, like animals, or houses, or painting for instance. I think most children would find the poems great fun and an easy introduction to poetry, especially poetry that they can read by themselves over and over again. I love this anthology and rate it up there with my beloved Winnie The Pooh! If you find a copy, grab it!

Susie 6/1/08

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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee


“They don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us” says Maudie Atkinson, one of the ladies of Maycombe referring to Mockingbirds. The symbol of the Mockingbird is repeated through out the book and is significant within the stories as a bench mark for people’s actions. Harper Lee explained in later years that the book is about the moral standards of the period (1930’s Depression), and that it carries the message of tolerance and respect across several themes.

Published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird soared to dizzy heights almost immediately and has become, it is said, the most popular book after the Bible. However, it has been challenged on occasions, some quite recently as people sometimes feel the language is out dated and often derogatory, for example the word “nigger”, which is used frequently throughout the book. However, in English speaking countries the book is often on the school curriculum and is as popular as ever, as it embraces several themes which never go out of date. It is interesting to note that the similarities between the people and events in the book and Lee’s own life are more than coincidence. It is partly auto-biographical.e

Set in Maycombe, a fictional town in Alabama, the story is told by Jean Louise Finch (known as Scout) who is the six year old daughter of the local attorney at law, Atticus Finch. She and her brother Jem, who is four years older, live with their widowed father. Later in the book, their aunt comes to live with them in an effort to train tomboy Scout to become more ladylike. The first part of the book sets the scene and concentrates on the childrens’ lives. Scout starts school and another boy, Dill, spends the summer in Maycomb and becomes firm friends with Scout and Jem. Scout tells us about all the residents of the town, giving wonderful descriptions of their personalities, a mixture of her family’s opinions and her own understanding, (or misunderstanding) of them. This combination of child innocence and adult experience leads to clashes at times, but it serves to show how Scout thinks about things, and resolves them in her own way. As a consequence we follow her, and Jem as they mature and embrace the ideologies of their father. They frequently misjudge people and then are forced to reaccess their opinions. During this time, all three develop a fascination for a neighbour who is known as a recluse. They try to coax him to come out of his house, and dare each other to knock on his door until Atticus puts a stop to it. Meanwhile, the man in question, Arthur ‘Boo’ Radley is suspected of leaving them little gifts in the trunk of a tree outside his home.
In the second half of the book, things begin to get more active. Atticus is asked to represent a local black man who is accused of raping a white girl. The repercussions of this affect Scout and Jem who are suddenly catapulted out of their comfortable existence and shown a side of the folk in the town that they had not realised existed before. They are uncomfortable with the events that take place and each becomes more and more stressed in their efforts to account for peoples’ behaviour.When the man accused of rape, Tom Robinson, is found guilty Jem is very upset and the children are incredulous. The father of the girl who alleged rape, Bob Ewell said he would get his own back on those who had supported Tom. Since he was drunk most of the time, few believed him, until he tried to get into the Judges house. He also intimidated the widow of the innocent man, who was now dead as he had tried to escape from the prison and been shot.He spat in Atticus’ face too, but none of these actions indicated his last deed, which was trying to kill Jem and Scout as they walked home from the school pageant one night. Rather neatly, they were rescued by the elusive Boo Radley and Mr Ewell was found stabbed to death.

I found the book easy to read, although I sometimes found Scout’s trail of thought somewhat erratic at times, but the first part of the book was so slow and didn’t seem to be leading anywhere. I became a little bored and only continued as I knew the book was so well regarded. Even though the second part moves more quickly with the trial, I still thought it a bit slow, the only real action happening near the end.However, the book has several themes which interweave, some more easily appreciated after reading has finished. There is the morality theme, the class theme, the race theme, and the bildungsroman…that is, following the young protagonist and her brother from childhood to a sort of maturity, (albeit over only three years), but they do grow in emotional and psychological ways and this occurs as a theme throughout. Each of the themes is well illustrated with examples during the story, but although I was aware of some of them as I read, it was when I had finished the book that I really appreciated how cleverly interlocked they were.

The characters were written with great insight. Scout is a wonderful little girl, asking all the questions of a bright and curious child, and very capable of standing up for herself. Jem’s behaviour is just as thoughtful, but more measured and he is a wonderful protector of his sister. Their father is the moral role model of the story, quietly intelligent, very tolerant, reasoning with his children and teaching them that life is not just black and white. Aunt Alexandra, Atticus’ sister, is very class orientated, and Scout feels that her aunt dislikes her, but is again made to realise that you should not make assumptions. All the characters come across as very real and fresh, even the ladies of the town who are portrayed as biggoted and shallow, yet warm and human too. Lee never gives the impression that she is judging or criticising.

My final impression was that it is a really good book and deserves the accolades. It is one of those books that I think may require reading at least twice, so that you can appreciate all the bits of the jigsaw and make connections. I did enjoy my read but still have a faint feeling of disappointment. I think I am still concerned that the first part of the book was so slow. Perhaps it will take a few days to take full account of everything.

Meanwhile, Harper Lee met President Bush on November the 5th 2007 when he awarded her with the presidential medal of freedom for ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.





Photgraphs: Top: ‘Mocking me’ by Scott Robinson

Bottom: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Nenad Stevanovic

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The official Patients sourcebook on Narcolepsy – a Revised and Updated Directory for the Internet Age.

The official Patients sourcebook on Narcolepsy – a Revised and Updated Directory for the Internet Age.
James N.Parker, MD
and Phil;ip.M.Parker, PH.D., Editors.
A reference manual for self-directed Patient Research.

Recently I decided I needed some help with my research on narcolepsy. The internet is great, but I sometimes feel I am going around in circles, either reading pages that lead back to previous pages, or pages that repeat previous pages, with minimal differences, or …nothing! So I looked for some books on the subject. It turns out there are very few. How come the world has seemingly heard of narcolepsy, albeit, mostly mythical rather than factual, and yet so few people have written about it? Ok, so only one in 2000 of us have the condition (American statistics), so overall, it’s not going to affect that many people, but it is still important that folk know about it, especially those of us who live with it. There were two books that seemed interesting, so I ordered them and looked forward to their arrival.

The first of these was The official Patients sourcebook on Narcolepsy – a Revised and Updated Directory for the Internet Age.
James N.Parker, MD and Phil;ip.M.Parker, PH.D., Editors. This describes itself as ‘A reference manual for self-directed Patient Research’. This description grabbed me immediately as usually folk are dissuaded from doing their own research, and discouraged from learning anything that might directly contravene information from their medics. Well, at least until lately. With the advent of the world wide web, this attitude is less common,  now being  challenged and replaced by tentative encouragement to research. There is a certain philosophical resignation that recognises that if people want information, they will get it one way or the other, so better to provide it, and make sure it’s accurate. Having said that, the web itself is a minefield of myth, misrepresentation, or inaccuracies, so the researcher still has to beware. A book such as this, I hoped, would lead me to pastures new – with information that could be trusted.

When the book arrived, I was into it straight away. I was not disappointed. The list of contents is long, and looks to be comprehensive. The first chapter deals with narcolepsy, what it is, who gets it, how it is diagnosed and treated. It also looks at how individuals and their famiies can cope with narcolepsy. At the end of the chapter is the first of several vocabulary builders. These are helpful for lay people who have not come across some of the words and terms used in the previous chapters.
The second chapter is about how to find guidance about the condition; organisations, associations, finding doctors and health services, and how to work with your doctors. There ia another vocabulary builder at the conclusion of this chapter. Chapters three to nine look at possible sources of information, including clinical trials , studies on narcolepsy, research from patients, books, multi-media information, databases for physicians and dissertations on narcolepsy.
At the end of the book there are several appendices, dealing with researching your medications, researching alternative medicines, finding medical libraries and more on problem sleepiness.

I have browsed some of these chapters and found much to interest me, but I have not followed up any of the web site links yet. The editors make the point that most of the links, regardless of origins and age will be updated regularly, so information should not be out-dated, even though the book will age. As is the norm with websites, one link will lead to others and then to others, so hopefully updating will happen automatically.

I am looking forward to using this book and intend to start very soon.
If you are interested in the book, it is published by Icon Health Publications and is available from online booksellers,  and  who carry all the titles in the series, including similar books on insomnia, restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea.

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In the Blood – Andrew Motion


For most people childhood ends slowly, so nobody can see where one part of life finishes and the next bit starts. But my childhood has ended suddenly. In a day.

In the Blood is Andrew Motion’s beautifully delivered memoir of growing-up in post-war England — an unforgettable evocation of family life, school life, and country life. It also tells the story of how these worlds were shattered when Motion’s mother suffered a terrible riding accident. The tragedy shadows the book, feeding its mood of elegy as well as its celebratory vigilance. Told from a teenage child’s point of view, without the benefit of hindsight, Motion captures the pathos and puzzlement of childhood with great clarity of expression and freshness of memory. We encounter a strange but beguiling extended family, a profound love of the natural world, and a growing passion for books and writing.  


This book, on the whole was a disappointment. I am not sure why. Perhaps it was because of Motion’s status as a poet, that I expected more. Perhaps it was to do with how I perceived the advertising literature. I can’t say. However, I felt that although the book was based on a major event, Motion’s mother’s riding accident, it never went anywhere. It felt static. Motion grew up in a middle class, Home Counties country environment. There seemed to be nothing particularly odd or different about his upbringing…I suspect many will recognise his descriptions of hunting, and boarding school etc. Equally many will have no experience of these things themselves, but will be familiar with them from numerous other writings on such topics. His detail is well written and poetically descriptive, as you would expect, yet somehow boring, and I wondered what his point was. Why did he feel the need to write about his childhood in such poignant detail? Was it because of his mother’s accident, or in spite of…some sort of justification for the tragedy which was her life. Was he trying to convince himself that he had been the model son, despite the events which shaped his growing years?

He felt that his life changed overnight, and childhood ended abruptly. This obviously marked him, even traumatised him. He seemed not to be able to cope as well as his younger brother, who seemed to be philosophical about everything. I was not sure about the reasons for this. His relationship with his mother seemed ambivalent to me, though I could never fathom why. They seemed to become closer as he grew older and confided in her, telling her about his desire to write, but even then, I felt a coldness between them. When the book ends we don’t know what happened to Mrs Motion. Did she live or die? How did Andrew feel about her in the years after the accident?

There seemed for me, to be more questions at the end of the book, than had been answered during it, which surprised me. I was frustrated because of the lack of direction. Why was he telling us this story? Had he learned anything from it? I felt that in reality, he had not divulged all, either to his readers or himself, and this felt like a very loose end. Even though it was written from the perspective of a confused teenager, it didn’t work for me.

Strangely though, the book stayed with me for days after I had read it, and again there was nothing I could pinpoint or refer to particularly, but just a vague feeling of it not being finished…and I wanted a conclusion. I didn’t feel as if I had got to know the real Andrew Motion at all.

Overall a disappointment, but I do not regret reading it, as I believe there is food for thought there, which will be useful when reading his other works.


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