Posts Tagged With: history

Love on the Dole by Walter Greenwood

This was on my reading list for university, and I am glad I picked it.


In Hanky Park, near Salford, Harry and Sally Hardcastle grow up in a society preoccupied with grinding poverty, exploited by bookies and pawnbroker, bullied by petty officials and living in constant fear of the dole queue and the Means Test. His love affair with a local girl ends in a shotgun marriage, and, disowned by his family, Harry is tempted by crime. Sally, meanwhile, falls in love with Larry Meath, a self-educated Marxist. But Larry is a sick man and there are other more powerful rivals for her affection. The definitive deception of a northern town in the midst of the thirties’ depression. Walter Greenwood’s “Love on the Dole” was the first novel to be set against a background of mass unemployment and was instantly recognised as a classic when it was first published in 1933. Raw, violent and powerful, it was a cry of outrage that stirred the national conscience in the same way as the Jarrow march.

This is a very graphic look at life in the Industrial North in the 1930s. This was a time where Britain was suffering in the Depression with unemployment, the dole and Means Testing, poverty, poor living conditions and very little money. Love on the Dole is a great depiction of this; written in the ’30s, Greenwood holds nothing back. We see unemployment, the new role of women, leisure activities, poverty, humiliation and love. This has set an accurate image in my mind of the 1930s.

I liked the character of Sally, she was a headstrong, independent girl who knew what she wanted, which was a new identity for women. She was pursued by many men, two of whom I despised! This pleases me because it means I made a strong connection with the book.

Harry on the other hand, he annoyed me some what. He sulked and whinged a lot, however this is probably quite an accurate portrayal of the effect the Depression had on ordinary people.

I enjoyed this novel. It was a good story as well as an excellent historical source.


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My Lady Judge by Cora Harrison

This is the first book by Cora Harrison that I have read, and I really enjoyed it. Here is the Amazon synopsis for My Lady Judge:

In the sixteenth century, as it is now, the Burren, on the western seaboard of Ireland, was a land of grey stone forts, fields of rich green grass and swirling mountain terraces. It was also home to an independent kingdom that lived peacefully by the ancient Brehon laws of their forebears. On the first eve of May, 1509, hundreds of people from the Burren climbed the gouged out limestone terraces of Mullaghmore Mountain to celebrate the great May Day festival, lighting a bonfire and singing and dancing through the night, then returning through the grey dawn to the safety of their homes. But one man did not come back down the steeply spiralling path. His body lay exposed to the ravens and wolves on the bare, lonely mountain for two nights …and no one spoke of him, or told what they had seen.And when Mara, a woman appointed by King Turlough Don O’Brien to be judge and lawgiver to the stony kingdom, came to investigate, she was met with a wall of silence …’An excellent historical novel with a most original leading character…A true Celtic feast.’ – P. C. Doherty.

This is a murder mystery set in Ireland in the Middle Ages. The main character is Mara, who is the judge of this kingdom. I loved her character. She had so many sides, the teacher, the mother, the judge and the woman. She could be deceptive when necessary, or just to get out of boring social meetings, which made me chuckle. She did have a conscience however. She was fair, calm and friendly. All the characters were well written and many I found an emotional connection too.

I liked the old-fashioned way of investigating the murder. There were several characters who could have been framed and way the murder was solved and reveled reminded me of the old murder mystery shows, with Mara talking to the king about how she worked it out. I guessed who the murder victim was but I did guess who the murderer was. I liked how there were two crimes that needed solving, and how we learned about the family ties and feuds that joined the community together. It was also interesting how Harrison compared English law to Irish law at the time.

I did have problems with the names. There were several long, hard to read names, but I just read over them and inserted my own version of the word.

Harrison’s description of Ireland in the Middle Ages was magical and I found myself transported back there. I will definitely be reading more in this Burren Series.


panmacmillan May 2008 £6.99 paperback

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Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

This is the second novel I have read by Tracy Chevalier, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Here is the synopsis from Amazon on Girl With A Pearl Earring:

The Dutch painter Vermeer has remained one of the great enigmas of 17th-century Dutch art. While little is known of his personal life, his extraordinary paintings of natural and domestic life, with their subtle play of light and colour, have come to define the Dutch Golden Age. The mysterious portrait of the anonymous Girl with a Pearl Earring has fascinated art historians for centuries, and it is this magnetic painting that lies at the heart of Tracy Chevalier’s second novel of the same title.

Girl with a Pearl Earring centres on Vermeer’s prosperous household in Delft in the 1660s. The appointment of the quiet, perceptive heroine of the novel, the servant Griet, gradually throws the household into turmoil as Vermeer and Griet become increasingly intimate, an increasingly tense situation that culminates in her working for Vermeer as his assistant, and ultimately sitting for him as a model. Chevalier deliberately cultivates a limpid, painstakingly observed style in homage to Vermeer, and the complex domestic tensions of the Vermeer household are vividly evoked, from the jealous, vain, young wife to the wise, taciturn mother-in-law. At times the relationship between servant and master seems a little anachronistic, but Girl with a Pearl Earring does contain a final delicious twist in its tail. Chevalier acknowledges her debt to Simon Schama’s classic study of the Dutch Golden Age, The Embarrassment of Riches, and the novel comes hard on the heels of Deborah Moggach’s similar tale of domestic intrigue behind the easel of 17th-century Dutch painting, Tulip Fever.

Girl with a Pearl Earring is a fascinating piece of speculative historical fiction, but how much more can novelists extract from the Dutch Golden Age? –Jerry Brotton –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

I really enjoyed this book. It was fast-paced and gripping. There were no boring parts and I read this book so quickly.

Chevalier’s descriptions were amazing. I could easily picture the marketplace and the eight-tipped star, as well as the house the Vermeer’s lived in and his studio. The book was written in a way that made me feel like I was there watching the events unfold before my very eyes.

There were characters I liked, such as Pieter the son. I loved how he sought out Griet and never gave up. And characters I disliked, such as van Ruijven who believed he could have whatever he wanted because he was rich. I found myself getting angry at him as I read the book, which is good, as a book should spark emotions in the reader.

My only complaint was the ending – it was a little abrupt for my liking. I still have questions that I would have liked answered, but with the ending as it is, that won’t happen.

This was a quick, enjoyable read.


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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Amazon synopsis:
1939 – Nazi Germany – The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier. Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall. Some important information – this novel is narrated by death. It’s a small story, about: a girl; an accordionist; some fanatical Germans; a Jewish fist fighter; and quite a lot of thievery. Another thing you should know – death will visit the book thief three times.

I loved this book, I’m recommending it to everyone!!

It is a long book, of 550ish pages, but well worth the read, and even has pictures in the book! It is incredibly easy to follow and I liked how the pages were often broken up with some asides and important notes.

I think my favourite part was the fact the book was narrated by Death, who had some very funny one-liners. Death was also my favourite character, he was portrayed in a new, almost sensitive way, which I loved. And he had a great sense of humour.

The book had me gripped from the beginning and was full of twists and turns. I was nearly in tears at the end of the book, it was so sad, but I was thoroughly satisfied by the ending.

I loved all the characters, some had me cringing, some had me laughing, some I just loved and wished they were real.

This is historical fiction, but I had no reason to doubt the history in the book, with the concentration camps and the Munich bombings.

9/10, an excellent book.

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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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