Reading for pleasure
This month's selection of leisure reading
I Had It From My Father
Iain Macmillan (Standfirst: £15)
“Personally, I find legal reminiscences very boring. So, if you are not interested in me – and why on earth should you be? – don’t read the book.”
This self-effacing introduction neatly sums up the approach Dr Macmillan, pioneering President of the Law Society of Scotland in the 1970s, takes to his memoirs. Intended, I think, as a document for the benefit of his children and grandchildren, Iain Macmillan was persuaded by others to publish this fascinating volume, and we should all be thankful for that. Not many lawyers can recount a career including spells as trainee secretaries, fledgling playwrights and amateur sailors. When one includes the time spent abroad in the second half of the war (not finally demobbed until 1947), it is clear he has much to write about.
I share Dr Macmillan’s distaste for legal reminiscences. Fear not – only a small portion of this could be so described. Even these parts, dealing with an impressive career, are downplayed. Unlike the memoirs of many in our profession, this book is completely free from pomposity and self-aggrandisement. I read it at a sitting, with pleasure and a smile.
The Life of Rebecca Jones
Angharad Price (Maclehose Press: £10)
Originally written in Welsh, this fictionalised memoir spans the 20th century and charts the imagined life of a member of the writer’s family in a remote valley. The eponymous heroine and her brother run the family farm, while her three blind siblings find an escape from their harsh existence through education. The narrator combines episodes from a vanishing way of life with poetic descriptions of the hill country she loves. Although Rebecca has limited contact with the outside world, she cannot escape it entirely. She experiences the effect of two world wars, the rise of national politics and the decline of the Welsh language, as well as the arrival of the motor car, television and the tractor. She may dream of travelling to other countries, but we come to realise that her life is too deeply rooted in the area for her ever to contemplate leaving. The translation by Lloyd Jones retains the haunting beauty of the original language and manages to convey both Rebecca’s quiet dignity and her steadfast devotion to duty. This is a little gem of a book, which deserves a wider readership outside of Wales.
Patrick Conrad (Bitter Lemon Press: £8.99)
Despite his name, Patrick Conrad is Belgian, a screenwriter, film director and poet as well as a novelist. "No Sale" is set in his native Antwerp. One can readily detect his other occupations. This could have been written for cinema, and its leitmotif is the incredible cinematographic knowledge of Victor Cox, the leading character. This intertwines a series of gruesome murders of young women, all in some way connected to films Cox knows, and to memorabilia owned by him. So did he or didn’t he?
This is one of the most compelling crime novels I have read for some time, holding the reader with increasing suspense to the very end. It won the Diamond Bullet Award for best crime novel in Holland in 2007. The English translation was published this year. If this is the quality of all of Mr Conrad’s work, I hope there are more translations in the pipeline.
A Journey to Nowhere
Jean-Paul Kauffmann (MacLehose Press: £18.99; e-book £16.99)
I have not read a travel book which brings the places and essence of the spirit and enjoyment of discovery through travel to life so brilliantly since I read Geert Mak's book "In Europe". Ostensibly Kauffmann sets off to Courland, that part of Latvia which stretches westward from Riga, sandwiched by the Gulf of Riga and the Baltic, to write an article about the manor houses. However, into his travelogue Kauffmann beautifully weaves his relationship with Mara, his first great love, whom he met in Canada but who came from Courland. On his journey he is shown around Liepaja by Gwenalle K, while his wife saves the daughter of a knowledgeable German professor with whom he explores this landscape, teeming with history and long forgotten links to the French kings, Prussians, empty towns and former KGB prisons (having been a closed area under Communist rule until 1991). This is a stunningly well written book which cannot be recommended too highly.