A Clutch Of Historical Novels

One of the best from a top American author

By Ralph McAllister

Plot v USI finished re-reading Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America just as I left Brisbane for Waiheke. As many readers will know, this fine alternative history novel starts with Franklin Roosevelt losing the 1940 American election to Charles Lindbergh.

As America lurches to the extreme right and anti-Semite practices multiply, the young Philip Roth and his family try to maintain dignity and justice in a terrifying and utterly plausible nightmare.

It was a pleasure to meet again one of my all time favourite authors. I must go back for more delights.

Sansom with a 20th century setting

Sansom dominionQuite coincidentally C.J. Sansom’s Dominion was the first of three novels set in and around these sad times which I read in peaceful and beautiful Waiheke. A world apart indeed.
Lord Beaverbrook is Prime Minister of Britain, Mosley his Home Secretary, Churchill is in hiding leading the protest movement and Hitler is dying.The year is 1952 and David Fitzgerald a civil servant, with a secret, is caught up with his wife in a spy story a la Bond which ambles along with a plot that is too long, with lots of politics and less action.

Sansom is a fine writer and his book will please his many Tudor sleuth Matthew Shardlake fans.

France between the wars

Francine ProseI much preferred Francine Prose’s Lovers at the Chameleon Club Paris 1932.
Prose may have been inspired by Brassai’s photograph Lesbian Couple at Le Monocle.
The two women characters share cross dressing pursuits with racing cars and spying for the Germans as Hitler beguiles and entrances them.

This is a strange and different story told with all Prose’s normal creative style.
Warmly recommended.

Binet on the death of Nazi Reinhard Heydrich

HHhHHHhH is the unusual title of a first novel by Laurent Binet. It deals with the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague in 1942. What sets this novel apart from others is the author’s constant agonising over what should or should not be part of the story. How much should a novelist make up, how much should authenticity reign supreme.

The debate is tortuous and at times infuriating, as Binet creates in one sentence and takes away with the next. Talk about having your cake and eating it.

Heydrich appears in all these novels, so that by the time it was to say goodbye to the Germans and Waiheke, I felt somewhat of an authority about both topics.
Now for something completely different : Mahler’s Ninth

MahlerAnd joy of joy I managed to catch a searing performance of Mahler’s Ninth by our NZSO in Auckland as a kind of follow up to the First Symphony, heard in Melbourne last month with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and not the Victorian Symphony as I erroneously wrote.

What has Mahler got to do with the price of fish?
Something to do with if I had not been looking after cats in Waiheke a place I have grown to love, there would have been no Mahler and yes, I know Mahler was Austro-German, but the connection is enough for me as I continue to admire that great symphonic composer.

Happy reading.