W V Tilsley: Other Ranks

A few years go I read W V Tilsley‘s Other Ranks. This is an account of a soldier in Word War I. It was originally published in 1931 and never republished. It was very hard (if not almost impossible) to find a copy. As a result of my review, I was contacted by a lady who was related to Tilsley by marriage. She was determined to get the book published and worked very hard to do so. I am happy to report that it has now been republished and you can get it direct from the publisher, Unicorn Publishing. Their website says of them Unicorn Publishing Group LLP is a leading independent publisher with three distinct imprints: Unicorn, specialising in the visual arts and cultural history; Uniform, specialising in military history; and Universe, specialising in historical fiction. I would highly recommend this book, particularly if you are interested in accounts of war, World War I or simply good writing. Hopefully the book will now become better known.

Things Irish

I have recently returned from a two week holiday in Ireland and while the trip was primarily scenic rather than literary, we did visit a couple of places with literary associations and, in particular, two places I have always wanted to visit.

The first was the Aran Islands. The Aran Islands consist of three islands. We visited only the largest Inís Mor (Inishmore). The key feature on the island is the ancient fortress of Dun Aonghasa (see photo at left), with the site having been occupied since 1500 BC. However, from the literary point of view and what first got me interested in the islands is J M Synge. Synge stayed there for several summers, mainly on Inis Meáin, the second largest island but he also spent time on Inís Mor.

While there he wrote a a book on the islands. He also improved his knowledge of the Irish language. (The locals still speak Irish to one another.) His play Riders to the Sea was set there and his stay on the islands undoubtedly influenced his other plays.

Synge was not born on the Aran Islands but Liam O’Flaherty was. Four of his books are on my website.

The Aran Islands were also the setting for one of the great classic films: Robert Flaherty’s Man of Aran. Flaherty was born of an Irish father though he himself was born in Michigan. I will mention two other less worthy films, shot on the islands: Leap Year, based on Powell and Pressburger’s brilliant I Know Where I’m Going!, and Matchmaker.

I have long been a fan of US film director John Ford, particularly his Westerns. His mother was born on the Aran Islands. We also visited Cong where his film The Quiet Man was made. This was, in my view, a not very good romantic comedy(John Wayne as the romantic lead!) but Cong loves it as you can see from the photo of the statue of Wayne carrying Maureen O’Hara. Much of the town is devoted to honouring this film, which always seem to be showing. My view is stick to his Westerns.

Coole Park when inhabited

W B Yeats has long been my favourite poet. As well as a noted poet, Yeats was one of the founders of the Irish Literary Theatre, which led to the Abbey Theatre. One of his co-founders was Lady Augusta Gregory. She and her family lived at Coole Park, near Galway.

Coole Park as it is now

The family welcomed many distinguished visitors, including Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Sean O’Casey, Augustus John, Violet Martin, the Ross of Somerville and Ross and many others. Sir William Gregory, Lady Gregory’s husband, was thirty-five years her senior, and died after they had been married twelve years. They had one son, Robert, who was killed in action during World War I, leaving behind a wife and three children. He was immortalised by Yeats, particularly in his poem An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.

Lady Gregory left Coole Park in 1927 but remained there till her death in 1932. Yeats forecast its demise in his poem Coole Park 1929. The house was abandoned, left to fall into ruin and demolished in 1941-42. It has since become a nature reserve and the Irish government has now built an excellent visitor centre about the house, its inhabitants, its history and visitors. There are rumours that they plan to do a lot more to develop the site.

The painting to the left is one of the items in the exhibition and it was painted by Yeats, W. B., not his brother or father both of whom were famous artists. You can also see the famous autograph tree, where many of the famous visitors, including those mentioned above, carved their initials. Though they are numbered, the bark has grown so that you can barely see any of the letters.

A couple of miles away, there is a Gregory Museum, which is, in fact, a schoolhouse, built in colonial style, for the local schoolchildren, funded by the Gregory family. When a new school was built, the building was kept on as a museum. It is run entirely by volunteers and a thanks to Tony and Yvonne for showing us around.

A couple of miles further on is the tower (right, above) that Yeats bought (called Thoor Ballylee) and where he lived in the summers. It inspired his poem The Tower. It was built by the de Burgos, a Norman family, probably in the fourteen century and is entirely surrounded by water, which means that it frequently floods. It also fell into rack and ruin but was restored and is now also run by volunteers. If the weather is nice, which it was for us, you get splendid views but I imagine it could be very cold (and wet) in winter.

Eugene Vodolazkin: Соловьёв и Ларионов (Solovyov and Larionov)

The latest addition to my website is Eugene Vodolazkin‘s Соловьёв и Ларионов (Solovyov and Larionov). This is Vodolazkin’s first novel (though not the first to appear in English) and a superb one it is. General Larionov was a general in the Russian Civil war but on the White Russian side. He commanded a force in the Crimea and held off a superior army of Soviet soldiers for some time. The most surprising thing for those who study him, is that he survived to a ripe old age, living in Russia, and was not arrested or shot for his actions. Solovyov is a young historian. The fact that his first girlfriend was called Leeza Larionova may have helped him to have an interest in the general. Solovyov is a dogged and serious researcher and he is determined to track down the general’s missing memoirs and find the reason why he escaped being shot, as well as solving other mysteries regarding the general and, finally, trying to find Leeza, who seems to disappear. He has a series of adventures, attends a conference on the general, which enables Vodolazkin to mock academics, and pursues his searches and researches assiduously. It is a wonderful story and superbly told by Vodolazkin.

José María Arguedas: Todas las sangres [All the Bloodlines]

The latest addition to my website is José María ArguedasTodas las sangres [All the Bloodlines]. This is José María Arguedas’ longest book and goes into great detail about a story of oppressed Indians, ruthless Peruvians and a US mining company. Fermín and Bruno Aragón de Peralta are rich brothers who hate each other. Their father kills himself at the beginning of the book. Bruno wants to be a feudal landlord, controlling (and brutalising) his Indians, while Fermín wants to run a modern business, particularly though not only a silver mine. He has managed to buy up much of the land from his fellow Peruvians and they are now broke and bitter. However, Fermín will be outmanoeuvred by Wisther-Bozart, the US mining company, whose deep pockets and ability to buy political favours means that they will get the mine. However, it is the Indians who suffer, paid less by Wisther-Bozart, exploited by all the whites and repressed whenever they object. Arguedas makes no bones about where his sympathies lie.

César Aira: El llanto [Crying]

The latest addition to my website is César Aira‘s El llanto [Crying], one of the many of his works that sadly has not been translated into English. This one is also particularly strange though Ì have probably also said that before about an Aira work. Our narrator is a writer whose career is faltering and, more particularly, so is his marriage, as his wife, the beautiful Claudia, has run off with a Japanese terrorist. Indeed, our narrator witnesses the terrorist assassinate the Argentinian prime minister. He is now left alone in his flat, with only the company of their dog Rin-Tin-Tin, when Claudia goes out, which is frequently. Not surprisingly, the dog, and other animals, talk to him. Three-quarters of the way through the novel, the narrator announces the story is about to start and, indeed, everything changes again. Unusual by most other standards but perhaps not by Aira’s.

Hiromi Kawakami: ニシノユキヒコの恋と冒険 (UK: The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino; US: The Ten Loves of Nishino)

The latest addition to my website is Hiromi Kawakami‘s ニシノユキヒコの恋と冒険 (UK: The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino; US: The Ten Loves of Nishino). This is another clever novel from Kawakami about the complexity of love and relationships. Yukihiko Nishino has affairs with ten women in this book (though probably a lot more in actuality). Each one is slightly different but each has a few similarities. Firstly, the relationship does not last. For various reasons, usually because he finds someone else, he moves on, though sometimes not moving on till he is well into the relationship with the next woman. Secondly, he does seem devoted to each woman, proposing to several of them (they do not take his proposal seriously), even while, as we know and, in some cases, they know, there is another woman in the offing. Thirdly, even if their relationship is very brief, they do not forget him. He seems to have a profound effect on them, as is seen at his funeral. (We know, early on, that he is to die, as he appears as a ghost to one of his lovers.) Kawakami tells her tale her well, with each relationship different, despite the similarities, and each time we and the women ask, will this one last?

Uwe Tellkamp: Der Eisvogel [The Kingfisher]

The latest addition to my website is Uwe Tellkamp‘s Der Eisvogel [The Kingfisher]. Wiggo Ritter is a lost soul. His father is a ruthless banker and Wiggo hates everything he stands for. He studies philosophy, to his father’s disgust, but gets into a dispute with his professor and loses his job. He then meets Mauritz and Manuela Kaltmeister. They belong to a group called Rebirth, a right-wing group, which believes the elite should rule. Mauritz is pushing for terrorist activities to scare the populace into wanting a law-and-order group like his to take over and where better to start than with the professor who fired Wiggo? We know it goes wrong, as the book opens with Wiggo shooting and killing Mauritz and he ending up in hospital with severe burns. This is a fine book, only translated into Polish, about urban terrorism and a lost soul not finding his way.

Christophe Bernard: La Bête Creuse [The Hollow Beast]

The latest addition to my website is Christophe Bernard‘s La Bête Creuse [The Hollow Beast]. This is a very long, very funny novel, written in broad Quebecois dialect, about a family that may have a curse on them though, as we soon learn, it is possible that the curse is merely excessive consumption of alcohol. It starts in 1911 with Monti Bouge brilliantly saving (with his teeth) the puck in a key ice hockey game but he is pushed into the goal and the goal is awarded. He vows revenge on the referee, Victor Bradley. Many years later he again meets Bradley, now a postman, and goes out of his way to make his life miserable (delivering heavy items to his remote cabin). Monti eventually heads off to find gold in the Yukon. He does find money but not the conventional way and returns home rich. Meanwhile, we are also following his grandson François, alcoholic, drop-out and chronicler of his family, determined to show there is a curse. He too has his adventures. It is hilarious fun, with kidnapping, unreliable narrators, mad taxi drivers, dodgy poker games, odd beasts, and lots and lots of alcohol.