Posts Tagged ‘contemporary fiction’


The Pretoria Castle

This ebook is a must.

I invite all to spend time with the wonderful, warm Litinsky family.
A modern Jewish family relocates from their early life in South Africa to London. It was the beginning of the 1960s: This country is no place to bring up children… after Sharpeville.
And already we see the bigger picture, the extra dimensions: we do not live our lives in isolation. Ever.

The book begins with the young family moving from Cape Town to the Transvaal. It ends with the family arriving in Portsmouth, and moving onto London.
They start new lives each time, with all the wrenching upheaval, the breaking away from years laid down in the memory, and to learn new ways of living, speaking, thinking even, this entails.
But more, the books begins and ends with the gathered family remembering itself and  celebrating the Passover ceremony in each new home. Who remains? Who has gone?

And what is the main prayer of the Passover? Next year, in Jerusalem.
One has to learn to fit in, integrate, yet all the time some part keeps one separate – we witness the attitudes of the new Church of England school in London belittling the Jewish holiday traditions, where a holiday  is indeed a holy day.
But there are also the challenges of new ideas and ideals as left wing politics, feminism, find homes in the hearts and minds of the growing children.

I would like to invite you  to meet, spend time with, Isaac and Verena Litinsky, their twin daughters Davida and Sarah, younger siblings spoilt Raphael, and Alicia. But then, of course, there are the extended families of both mother and father’s side, their own experiences of a shocking century.

The family unit is a wide and internationally based web of relationships.
The family unit touches the people they live among, with, beside. In the Transvaal there are the black Africans working in the household: Susan, the nanny, who cooks the specifically Jewish food, and lives by choice apart. Her wedding…. No, you must read for yourself.

Father Isaac flew to London earlier to find work and look for accommodation. The family followed later, by boat.
Here we see where book title, The Floating Castle, begins to throw wider and wider shadows and shapes on the canvas of our reading.
We see how the family arranges itself into at times autocratic, at times capitalist and democratic relationships; we see how other cultures, the travelling companions, the ship-board relationships, impinge, threaten the stability of the family unit: is Verena really taken with that other man? What of Davida’s developing relationships outside the family unit?

At times the Jewish ceremony can seem as strange to the children as the others around them. They visit a Christian Church in Johannesburg with their nanny. Sarah concludes that it’s bunk, if the messiah had really come then they would all be in paradise by now, and they are plainly not.
We see the characters from the inside, through unreliable narration like this. It gives us insights, it provokes empathy. The tone of voice is caught seemingly effortlessly

The background stories fill in, and we see the sense in madness, the folly in sense, as ordered and disordered lives worked themselves out to unforeseeable conclusions. Human, all so human.

The book shifts locale and time giving us the later stories of the character’s lives, and their earlier experiences. And how they reflect in each other.
It gives us, for instance: What does it cost to borrow a ride on a bike? Enough to say, Nanny Susan saved dignity, and the day.
We read into this how one learns bargaining; how the body can be a bargaining counter. Here is the beginning of gender politics, body consciousness; it shows how natural curiosity can devolve into objectification, given a background of gender inequality.

‘Faith’, we say easily, and yet we discern in this story, how the word goes deeper. We discern here how it can permeate every part of one’s being, one’s experiences, one’s interactions with the world. It can colour one’s whole view:
The London Jews… They’re not real Jews, not in the way we understand.’ was Isaac’s verdict.
But we also see Isaac’s Jewishness held up for examination, where the holes show through, and the patches.
We should have gone to Israel, he said, we have lost something staying too long in London, We have stretched the thread of tradition too far.
But Israel, itself, volatile, threatened, and threatening: was that a place for the children? We see Aunt Masha after her parent’s died, living perpetually alone. She was a constant fount of vitality, but duty and  tradition tied her heart, hand and foot.

And on the other hand there’s Molly. She was a member of the Black Sash Movement in South Africa, a fighter for black rights. Molly is a splendid character; she is full of the contradictions of her place and time: comfortable and white interloper fighting for the impoverished and black indigenous peoples. She is passionate, brave, puts herself on the line constantly.

The book is strong and yet flexible, the characters all well realised, warmly depicted, and all so likeable. For all their faults, short-comings. The writing is finely nuanced, crafted; a joy to read.

I have really enjoyed my time with the Litinsky family.

I really must go back and re-read from the beginning.

fair helen, by Andrew Grieg. Published Quercus, 2013.

This is an immersive book. It is also an impressive book.

Spoiler warning. Also, there is a very upsetting scene later in the book for those wishing to read – a scene outwith the deaths of several, and, you guessed it, Helen herself.

The story line is the telling the story of one of the last of the Border Ballads, Fair Helen of Kirkconel.
It’s one song that has stuck in my head, too: I English those hook-lines as Oh would I be where where Helen lies/Night and day on me she cries/ O that I were where Helen lies/ On fair Kirkconnel Lea….
Shivers for me.

The novel uses the framework of writing the real story of the ballad, by Helen’s cousin Harry Langton, under protection of William Drummond of Hawthornden.
We spend much time in Harry’s head as he relives the times.
And the times are one main theme of the book.
It is set in and around 1597, in (Embro) Edinburgh, but most especially the West March of the Scottish Borders.
Anyone who knows their Borders history will instantly pick up on that: the West March was sometimes referred to as The Debateable Lands. It was the haunt of the likes of Johnnie Armstrong, Kinmont Willie, Jock o the Side… and those huge characters still dominated the landscape.
Early in the story Harry is present at an Armstrong wedding in tower and main house. We see through his eyes all the key players from higher levels of society, Border power-base families, as well as those there through family obligations.
This is a masterful piece of writing, bringing us in amongst the clashing egos, as well as opening up to us living conditions, the harsh lives so dependent on good harvests, a well-guarded farm stock.
And we get to ‘see’ inside a peel tower. See

It was the dying years of the reivers’s long rule over people’s lives and livelihoods.
There is one revealing episode where Harry is conducted through ruined and enemy Border country:
I saw burned-out cottages, wooden shacks and empty, untended fields. In the villages, folk lurked, disappeared at out approach. I felt starved eyes staring into my back as we rode on. Suspicion and hunger hung like haar in the air, dank and chilling.
Note the alliteration, the searching-out rhythm of the piece.

The story is that Harry grew up alongside his cousin Helen, before his family moved to Edinburgh.
As a student there later he roomed with fellow Borderer Adam Fleming, Helen’s lover.

And Helen? Harry describes her life as ‘twenty-one years by five miles.‘
This is one small river valley: Kirtle Water, in Annandale, Dumfriesshire
And that is the length of the Kirtle Water their lives were bounded by. Upstream was Nether Albi, Adam’s home; then down river Blackett House, where Rob Bell, Helen’s other lover lived; and then Bonshaw Tower, Helen’s home: five miles. Eight miles, though, he says at one point in the story: who am I to quibble.
Oh, there is a handy map at the front of the book.

One other main theme of the book is the shifting loyalties of Border families. It all had repercussions higher up into society and in the court of James the Sixth, soon to be James the First of England.

The schemings of the titled families to dominate the doings of others; the untitled family groups, and their dependents’ own shifting loyalties, plus the fates of villagers, were all tied into complex relationships. Their strongest tethers were the blood-feuds between families, that went back a hundred years and more.

Harry Langton was a good vehicle for bringing us into this close-knit and volatile mix, as an outsider with fresh eyes, yet who has acceptance through family ties to the region.

Another example of outstanding writing and realisation, is in the description of the gathering of families and dependent tenants to bring back sheep and cattle stolen overnight – from the Warden of the West March, no less. Many Wardens instigated raids they were meant to stop.
These two chapters of the book cover so many levels. We have Adam Fleming, already fearful for his life after three attempts, out in the open among enemies, like Rob Bell, under the one ‘flag’ of loyalty to the Warden. We see the obligated tenants, those fearful for their lives: not all will return; and those fired-up by the ‘adventure’.
Harry notes for us the shocked and appalled voices of reivers who have been themselves raided. ‘You lot!’ he says at one point, in exasperation.

And at the end of it all is a meeting of the top men, of new loyalties forged, and old feuds buried; shifting of allegiances.
Many outsiders would indeed kill to have the inside knowledge of these.

For the Border families loyalties were to their own families, not the Crown, of South or North. The Borders was/is a whole region in itself, not a line on a map.

How to break this centuries’ old bloodshed? That is another theme behind the book: the power-broking of top-movers.
Harry’s loyalty is claimed by a ‘patron’. He cannot move in Edinburgh without his say-so; and in the borders must report regularly and truthfully on all developments. This strains his loyalty to family friends, to Adam’s family who he stays with. It also puts his life at risk.

And Helen?
I cannot hear her voice, here.
She has attitude, yes; knows full well the curse of being born ‘fair’ in such a restricted world as the Kirtle Water. Of being a woman: ‘to breed’, she scorns. At times, though, she is fully immersed in the earthy love of the Borderers.
Harry is at pains to point out that the ‘chaste’ Helen of the ballad was not the real Helen. But then, was his own judgement of that not a reflection of the Calvinism he took such pains to disavow?

And what of Adam and Helen’s love? It comes to us as infatuation, passion, in the language of the recently dead John Knox, ‘lust’.
We do not get to know Adam, beyond the deliberate front he puts on after his mother’s rushed re-marriage. His father’s death on a raid, we find to have been suspicious indeed. He missed being family ‘heidsman’ by this marriage. What, then, was his standing? Very Hamlet.

There are three levels of woman’s ‘power’ in the novel, all along that five miles of river.
We have Helen, constricted by birth, standing, honourable name, financial and family security. Her role, to make a good marriage, but in reality to have it made for her. But to love aside from that.

We have Janet Fleming, Adam’s mother, widowed and married to her husband’s brother – happily, we are led to believe.
It was put upon Harry to get them to change their family loyalty to the new power on the rise. But she makes plain to Harry that they will not. She was indeed a full partner in the power-base of the all-important family group.

And then there is Elenora Jarvis, owner of the Fortune Rigg, the inn at the centre of all doings in the valley. Not yet thirty and yet a widow (did he fall, or was he pushed?) but sole owner of the most important tavern of the area. And Harry’s lover, and source of information.
Information is power; but it can also kill.
Her tavern had stood while all was ravaged around her. That took some delicate handling, indeed.
She used her earnings to buy stock, and to trade through Edinburgh to Europe.
And yet when the big men came through, and stopped at her tavern, she had to acquiesce to whatever they required. I can handle this one, she said, but left unsaid that the other, more powerful, she could not.

The old Ballads, though – Harry comments at one point that the ballad-makers had a lot to answer for. The Raid of Reidsmere, he notes, for example, ‘was not in Reidsmere, and it is was not a raid.’
But Fair Helen of Kirkconnel, to me, speaks of that kind of love people would die for. In the book, love is something else, more earthy, more of the body only.
It could well be that, keeping to the mind-set of the time, Harry had no language for that other kind of love.
It is in the Ballads, though. We get hints of such emotional heights as the story-line screws tensions to their denouement.

There are odd omissions in the book.
At one point Harry rues the loss of major Scottish writer, Robert Henrysoun, and yet there is no mention of the great William Dunbar, beyond a chapter heading: Timor Mortis Conturbat Me (from his Lament for the Makars).
There is mention of Ben Jonson, even a signed copy of his book, of Edmund Spencer, even Christopher Marlowe…. But no Shakespeare – except by implication. There are echoes aplenty of Adam as Hamlet, of Adam and Helen as Romeo and Juliet, maybe Coriolanus in the shifting loyalties and betrayals. But that’s it.
No David Lindsey or his Three Estaites, or Gavin Douglas.
He does incorporate a couple of lines from a poem by old buddy, Norman MacCaig!
No, Harry’s main literary interests are Montaigne’s Essaies, and Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura.
(Shame he could not find room for Rabelais.)

‘And that’s it,’ I wrote about Shakespeare. But is it?
Who were the players Harry Langton fell in with one drunken night on a stop-over in London, while on the run to Europe? And that play draft in his pocket next morning, hung-over, aboard ship:'loves Labours Won‘ – the famous lost play.

The story moves from line to line, page to page and does not falter. It sets a good pace, is a page-turner, and nicely balanced.
It does not have the overcooked, stifling, feel of a workshopped book that we meet a lot at present.
It moves with good pace, and deepens its concerns and levels of thought as the story is developed.

For all the scheming, Harry notes ‘for Lucretius the energy that drives us is quite impersonal, yet not mechanical. For on account of the swerve, nothing is predictable, and … may take a new, unguessable turn.’
The swerve – that was Lucretius’ acquiesce to free will, to accident, and chance.
This is how ‘the best laid plans o mice and men, do often gang astray,’ as Robbie Burns wrote much later.

And there we have it.


Tipitia was standing in deep thought by a window on the sixth floor of the university tower, it was by the Archeology Department elevator. She did not notice a shadow behind her, then a gentle voice said,

‘I do believe you have discovered one of my little secrets.’ It was Professor Farnum. The view from the window was across the city, and from their position on the university campus to the south of the centre the view was stunning, especially in sunlight: the white buildings shone in the light. Smoke rose from last night’s fires around the city centre.

‘The queen of the city.’ she murmured.

‘I always come here when I need reminding why we are doing this.’

‘Why? Professor?’

‘All the sacrifices. I have a theory,’ he said as they walked into the department, ‘that there are seven challenges in our profession.’

‘Challenges? Professor?’ she was gradually tuning into the conversation, and away from her private thoughts.

‘Some are just simple, basic things, like just getting through the undergraduate course. It isn’t the workload, not the intellectual struggle, No, that comes later; at undergraduate level it is just the challenge of sticking at it. Of not giving in and… well, you know the drop-out rate at this university as well as I.’

‘You always have seemed so…’ she looked for the word with the right shadings,

‘Committed?’ he offered. No, that was not quite the one.

‘Have you wondered why I do not do field work any more? Surely there have been rumours?’

‘I had thought it was the volume of administration, running a department in these times.’

‘And you have indeed shouldered your part of that,’ he said. ‘I call that challenge number five. No, it isn’t all because of that.’ He was ushering her into his office; the view was into the university quadrangle and the anonymous concrete admin section over the way.

‘You must have heard of the Sudan debacle?’

‘Yes, sir; well, as much as was needed.’

‘It was the tenth day, and we were struggling to fulfill our obligations; findings were few, and low quality. I had co-opted local children who were hanging around, getting in our way, you know the sort of thing. They were carrying baskets of diggings away from the sorting table, when one little girl, she must only have been nine or ten, suddenly collapsed. She died on the spot.’

He was silent for a good while; Tipitia sat quietly.

‘Apparently,’ he continued, ‘she had been up from before dawn, traipsing three miles, with a big… plastic container, to the spring, and then returned with it full and strapped to her back. Another three miles. Every morning. The boys, of course… it was the girl’s job. And our transport standing idle. Our own water supplies….’

He was silent again. ‘Tim Johnson was with us… you’ve heard me talk of Tim, our best field worker. He quit. Didn’t finish the dig, I… don’t know if he blamed me….. I heard about him some years later, he had been working with an Aid company. He had been kidnapped by rebels. They found him, what was left, a month or so later. That was my last dig, too.

They sat for a while avoiding each other’s eyes.


‘You never married, sir.’ she said. The tension eased a little.

‘Ah, no. Came near it once; very near. Anthropology research student at St Columb’s. Ah yes.’ He opened a drawer in his desk, brought out a framed photograph. Tipitia caught the colours of an academic gown with Masters cap and collar. Black hair… she peered closer.

‘That’s Professor Hernandez!’ she said. ‘She has always been my role model.’

‘Janis, yes,’ he said, and a surprisingly intimate light came into his face.

‘Challenge number four.’ he said.

‘Why a challenge, sir?’

‘Who knows if either of us would be where we are now, if…’

‘You gave up your marriage.’

‘It may not have come to that.’

‘But she is married now, sir.’

‘I know,’ he said quietly. ‘But her husband is not an academic; there is no… conflict.’


‘No, no, no,’ he was thinking as he was waking.
‘Too early. Damn birds. Damn, damn.’
His protestations lacked the vigour to drive him up and doing. He pulled the covers over his head. But he lay there tense.
He knew; that was enough. Too much light. Too much… busyness. It was in the air. And it was stifling under his covers.
‘Someone turned on the heating? I’ll kill… the bills!’
But it wasn’t that. What it was, he knew, he had to shell-out for a new mattress. Sticking into his back again.
‘Memory foam. Not one one of these….with metal bits sticking up into you….’ But at least this got him up and dressed.
‘Something… was it King Albert? Edward? Someone who shoulda known better, died through … tetanus… septacemia… from a bed spring?’ And that had him washed and dressed, and presenting himself downstairs.

A cheer as he walked into the workshop. Sarky lot, he groused. He looked at their beaming, lively faces.
‘Come on granddad. Get this down you.’ A mug of strong tea. Too strong, His constitution… there’s a word from his younger days, when he had the gift o the gab…. Well, his stomach could no longer take it. They meant well. He looked at them again, felt a warmth for them. A part of him whipped out, ’Infectious.  Infectious good-will.’ And that part of him knew that bode ill.

And then they brought out the chair. The wheel-chair. He froze. That anger felt good, he felt better. Slightly. But he couldn’t sustain it. To his shame, and yet… relief, admit it… he slipped into it, as if into a made-to-measure suit.
He thought about it, his old wardrobe, those suits up there. Maybe he could donate them. The styles, well. They same it all comes round every twenty years or so. So….

They were all looking at him. Their young, eager, and innocent expressions. It was an unhurried, but expectant look. Does that look have a name? He no longer cared… cared to follow through, find the lost connections. Is youth an expression? It’s… an age… thing…..

‘Let him rest,’ they were saying, looking over to him. Benevolent, he thought, that’s it. That’s the word.
He’d slumped. They’d left him near a window, and it was too bright, too hot.
‘Has one o yous put the heating on?’ But he couldn’t get the tone right. It came out like a snarl. Had he upset them now? But the bills…!

‘Come on, old man.’ They were saying, gently, like to an old pet? No, there was respect in their faces, their manner. His students. And suddenly he felt proud of them.
‘Just this one last job, eh?’ ‘They wheeled him to the engine room, lifted his hands to the iron wheel.
‘Easy, now.’ they soothed, ‘Just one last slow, steady push. Then it’s all over, eh. Plenty of sleep.’
‘Those daisies don’t push up by themselves, Mr Winter.’

It being Sunday, the character of the gift of this day is still to be found at the bottom-back of its drawer in this house.

Should I therefore dedicate this state of mind, of this momentary loss of angst, to that delayed discovery?  I am reminded of that couple’s shock and wonder at finding her father’s  fob-watch long kept and pristine in its packing, to be worth many thousands of pounds because of the uniqueness of the mechanism: a real tic-toc movement, and not just the regular toc-toc of most of our days.
Their Sunday was a full movement, and expansive, whilst the regular was a shot-off, half-hearted regularity that proves the normality. Their characteristic gift was the uniqueness that was the real and the rule that all else fell against in a mouthy clatter. I was happy to see them, their surprise was genuine, there was no stain of deserving in their expressions, it ran through them like unused mill water, as open to the sky as their faces to the switching emotions started up by the antiques expert’s pronouncement.

As open to the sky, nothing hidden away, but also not kept in oneself – running clear as language expressing itself fully for once, rather than the wasted, tragic form of one’s usual self-expression. Hmm. Something comes clear after long, long months of rustling through the drawers and cupboards of oneself: strange to find within oneself a kernel, an object of outsideness, almost a door… a fissure?… no, but more of a technique, a quality, of the outside.

On waking… is maybe the best of times, the day’s long building-up, re-building from sudden ruins, the affirmations of a self not yet underway, defences down, and all the regular little tropes of selfishness not yet active: don’t think, and so activate them all. Rattle around emptily inside one’s head before it stalls, gets in gear its sense of self – and open to a surprising adventure, tending the modes of thought and memory like young, vulnerable plants – young lettuce, in their beds? No, I can take anything but not that – lying idle there outside the narrow frame of one’s daily … a billiard’s game: earnestly try to pocket those balls that are aims, or thoughts, or hopes, down their appropriate holes of achievement, but constantly having your elbow nudged when lined-up for shooting. And by the other-self that cannot allow achievement, that dark one so coloured with doubts and sulks and glooms, and little else of any worth. The task therefore is to turn these around: the pattern says to turn them inside out: positive those negatives….

This day’s little hidden gift pays homage to patterns, but still runs around wiily-nilly as though sufficient such running could make one pay little heed to the constructions of one’s activities.

And which is best, of most value? The gift itself… or the packaging?

There was a loud rat-a-tat-tat on her door. It was a warm Rome night; she looked up from her work – That time?
She tutted at the interruption, at the time, at another night without dinner. Was she really tutting at her own forgetfulness? She turned back to her work, the old manual typewriter.

The door was knocked – banged – again. With great annoyance she stood but sitting so long had not been kind to her hips and she stumbled, hobbled, towards the door, holding onto her old, scant furniture.
She became aware of the noises around her for the first time, noises from the other apartments she was housed among. There was the next door radio again, and the other side the harassed voice of  mother of two little girls. Upstairs for once was quiet. Odd that, she was thinking. And then the door banged again.

‘Who is it?’ she called in her still-inflected Italian.
‘The Police. Open up please.’
Still she paused, the particular emotions this roused racing through her like long-lost family. She opened the door a crack, then more as she recognised the older man’s face.
‘Hello again,’ he smiled sardonically.
‘Upstairs?’ she asked. He nodded. Without being asked they walked in. They looked round the small, cramped apartment.
‘You would think,’ the younger of the two men was saying, ‘with all these papers, books… they’d sound-proof.’
‘Sound, like hot air, rises.’ The other motioned to the ceiling above, still strangely quiet.
‘This is the third time your neighbours have complained,’ the older man said, not unkindly.
‘I have to work.’ she said.
‘I know, I know….’

‘We need to see your papers.’ It was the younger man, he did not like the way his older officer was being easy with the perpetrator. There must be respect for the law.
She showed him her passport, permits.
‘German ?’ He was unsure now, the old enmity was still alive
‘Austrian!’ She was suddenly very much awake.
‘The older man moved in front of his comrade, gently returning her papers to her.
‘It is late, though,’ he said, ‘people need to rest after a long day.’
‘But I need to work,’ she repeated; or I’ll go mad, was running through her head.
The younger man was trying to claw back the ground he’d just lost,
‘What are you working on?’ His tone was a little too authoritative; he realised it and could not keep eye contact.
‘Just… just some poetry, a novel.’
The younger man was leafing through her papers. She looked anguished. The older man sighed, tired and in need of some cooler air after the stuffy room.

‘It is such a… little thing.’ the younger officer said, holding up the poem she had typed out already. He looked disappointed. They were moving towards the door at last.
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘such a little thing.’



Based on a real event.


Harold Nicholson, The Congress of Vienna. 1948

I’ve had this book for years; it was bought second-hand, when there were second-hand book shops, before the charity shops took on books and drove them out, and then Amazon sent them spinning into oblivion.
It’s a hard back; as I read the pages were still squeezed together – maybe it had never actually been read or even opened fully.

The Congress of Vienna was a favourite topic of mine when I was studying International Relations. And Harold Nicholson was a writer I respected, based on his earlier study of diplomacy .

Even so, as I read this book over November and December 2016 (one of my bed-time reads), it really brought home the extent of the huge shake-up, the major disruption to Europe as a whole, that Napoleon’s careering around the continent and beyond had created.

This disruption of nation, national territory, identity, continued up-till and after the Second World War: 130+ years.
We read here of the tragic fate of Poland under Napoleon, and then Tsar Alexander  1;  of the machinations behind the establishing of Prussia as a major force in central Europe; we learn the reality/meaning, of the extent of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
This latter is so ably expressed in the novels of Joseph Roth, his Radetzky March in particular, and the lovely novels of Stefan Zweig; or, say, Journey by Moonlight, by Antal Szerb.

Harold Nicholson, in his 1948 book, The Congress of Vienna,wrote:

Nobody who has not actually watched statesmen dealing with each other can have any real idea of the immense part played in human affairs by such unavowable and often unrecognizable causes as lassitude, affability, personal affection or dislike, misunderstanding, deafness  or incomplete command of a foreign language, vanity, social engagements, interruptions and momentary states of health.

All these are conclusions drawn from events, observations, reports, letters. Nothing is made up.

Left field events in a novel I have always relished: the unexpected, something leaking in from a larger pattern, tie-ing the micro to the macro. The relativism that gives lives meaning.

And yet this excerpt above seems to suggest the opposite of a pattern? These notes by Harold Nicholson plot out how decisions skew, and how such skews are then accommodated, and produce the end result’s wobbling, teetering edifice. Time factor also comes in: this or that was meant as a stop-gap, and yet to alter it afterwards would be to endanger the whole. And so it remains.
And how the ad-hoc has more to say than the rationalised and reasoned. Decisions were made whilst fighting with the major and minor shifting, and conflicting, demands of others.
At an early point in the Congress, three major leaders had painfully thrashed out the basis for reasoned discussion of the whole Congress. Then  France’s new representative, Talleyrand, arrived. He quickly but expertly threw all into disarray simply by questioning the bases of their concepts: against who? France is no longer a threat; then who are the agreements being put up to contain?.

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord:

What fascinates are the courage and psychology of these people: to walk in among the major powers, leaders, kings, emperors, and still hold one’s own. To hold one’s nerve, and one’s sanity.
Englands’ Castlereagh came home broken, and committed suicide some time afterwards.
Shelley may have hated him, but on a positive note he did insist on the Congress tackling the topic of Slavery.
He was very disparaging about the fate and status of Italy.
But then, everyone was about the Spanish representative, Marquis Pedro Gomez de Labrador, and tended to leave him out of everything.
Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh:


We can read in this the politics both real and imaginary that have so drawn people: The Game of Thrones is here, maybe most of the conflicts we see around us.


William Shakespeare, Crime Scene Cleaner.
By F J McQueen. Urbane Publications, 2016.

Out now in paperback.

Amazon review:

By Mark Mayes on 25 Dec. 2016

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase

A novel of extraordinary wit and imagination. A tour de force of language and inventiveness. I have simply never read anything like it. Told in quite a baroque style, and replete with a cast of Shakespearean characters and scenarios, not to mention old Will himself, but set in modern times, “Out Damned Spot!” really stands on its own, and deserves a genre all to itself. A unique tale, told in a unique style, highly stylised, you might say. I have listened to the author’s adaptation of Zola on BBC radio recently, and found the dialogue and description in those plays equally compelling and memorable.

Highly recommended.


WARNING: Contains big concept story-line, and huge metaphors.


Posted: November 7, 2016 in Chat


William Shakespeare, Crime Scene Cleaner.
By F J McQueen. Urbane Publications, 2016.

Now published on kindle.Paperback coming soon!

The most entertaining, gloriously funny, crazy, inventive, heart-warming and well-written book I have read in a long, long time.

Highly recommended.

We meet him as a junior doctor, and a whistle-blower on the medical services’ use of divination in medicine. His new career finds strange yet familair crime-ecenes: two dead teens, and a mysterious friar; a Scottish noble wife and husband in a grand house, durrounded by a strange forest…. The crimes begin to t fill his order-book.
Who is the perpetrator?

We blend Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, modern fantasy, and the darkest of dark humour (South Park in the background).

And then what the three oracles in the hospital cupboard said, starts to come true….
What if you could clean so deep you could clean the whole world?
What would that world be?

WARNING: Contains big concept story-line, and huge metaphors.

 See here for more on  F J McQueen:


William Shakespeare, Crime Scene Cleaner.
By F J McQueen. Urbane Publications, 2016.

Publication due; orders taken.

The best, most entertaining, gloriously funny, crazy, inventive, heart-warming, and well-written book, I have read for a long, long time.

Highly recommended.

We meet him as a junior doctor, and a whistle-blower on the NHS’s use of divination in medicine. His new career finds strange yet familiar crime-scenes: two teens dead in a crypt, and a mysterious friar; a Scottish noble wife and husband in a grand house, surrounded by a strange forest…. The crimes begin to fill his order-book.
Who is the perpetrator?
We blend Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, modern fantasy, and the darkest of dark humour (South Park in the background).

And then, when what the three oracles in the hospital cupboard said starts to come true….
What if you could clean so deep, if you could clean the whole world?
What would that world be?

WARNING: Contains big concept story-line, and huge metaphors.

See here for more on  F J McQueen: