Monthly Archives: November 2012

THE MONKEY WRENCH GANG by Edward Abbey

First published in 1975, The Monkey Wrench Gang is credited with inspiring Earth First! and successive activists who turn to sabotage as a way of fighting back against the corporate interests destroying our environment. It’s powerful, anarchic and as relevant today as it was more than 35 years ago. Bonnie, Seldom Seen Smith, Doc and Hayduke join forces to take direct action against the billboard adverts that line the highways, the road builders themselves, the mining companies and the machines used to construct the Glen Canyon Dam. The debates about violence versus non-violence are very familiar to anyone involved in eco-activism and as a whole the book raises a series of questions about how best to stop those intent on vandalising our planet. Abbey avoids being too worthy through plentiful use of satire and other humour and although some of the chases and details of how to trigger explosions dragged on a bit for me, overall The Monkey Wrench Gang is a perceptive and provocative read – required reading for anyone that appreciates what can be achieved with a pair of bolt cutters and the right attitude.

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Filed under comedy, drama, thriller

INSTRUCTIONS FOR VISITORS by Helen Stevenson

This starts off as a series of directions and notes for visitors to a house in  south west France but soon evolves into a love story involving the young woman who has let out her house and a vivid description of life in the village she is trying to make her home. Its seductive and sexy.  Flamboyant and  petulant artists mix with ageing communists, eccentric families and scores of salacious gossips vying to outdo one another in the glamour stakes. But there is a restraint one would expect from any community where nobody’s business is quite private and this stops the book from being too outre. The affection the writer feels for her adopted France is clear but so too is the frustration of blending into a different culture. There are some very funny moments and some heartbreaking ones, whilst ultimately its the colour and vibrancy of the village lifestyle that drew me in rather than anyone character or narrative. A lovely book to read as the cold is setting in and I need reminding of how delicious it is to bask in guaranteed sun.

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Filed under comedy, love story

SHELTER by Frances Greenslade

Years ago I found a book called Into the Forest by Jean Hegland, which was passed around lots of my friends and which I still remember as one of the best books I have ever read. I thought this was going to be quite similar and in lots of ways it is – two abandoned sisters, a pregnancy heavy with hope, the natural world as a character in its own right, and a poignant story about loss and healing. But in SHELTER the sisters are supported in their journey by the warmth and love of others, making it a much less bleak read than Into the Forest. It also reminds me in lots of ways of some of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels, which can only be a good thing. I took a while to lose myself in the story but once it happened I was truly lost. There’s an honesty and simplicity about the writing that is rare in the books I usually read, and the relationships that bind this story – between the sisters and those they have with the other characters – are tender, sweet and very believable. Frances Greenslade has created a world where although bad things happen, there is an incredible sense of humankind’s strength, resilience and capacity to grow through the pain. Beautiful.

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PRIMARY COLOURS by anonymous

So what with Hurricane Sandy and the Obama/Romney elections it’s all been about the US this autumn, so decided to re-read this  account of a senator campaigning to be selected as Democratic nominee for the US Presidency. It’s meant to be fiction but  was outed not that long after publication as drawing heavily on Bill Clinton’s race for the White House, with most of the characters easily identifiable as their real life counterparts, including Jesse Jackson, George Stephanopolous Dee Dee Myers and Mario Cuomo. The sleaze, the ruthlessness, the media circus and the calculation are all depressingly familiar – as are the games played and the deals struck. Our narrator is young idealistic campaign manager Henry Burton,  who moves from being inspired by the candidate’s empathy and sincerity to being appalled by the scandal, weaknesses and pragmatism that end up dominating the campaign. In the end Henry decides that he  wants something more from his President, but of course we know that the American people thought differently – at least at the outset. As a book this is pacy, addictive and at times very funny, although as an insight into US politics it pales by comparison with the genius that is West Wing.

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Filed under drama, factual