Reading for pleasure
This month's selection of leisure reading, chosen by the Journal's book review editor
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
John Boyne (David Fickling Books: £7.99; e-book £3.99)
The 27 January 2018 marked Holocaust Memorial Day. The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2018 is the power of words. In recognition of that, we have a contributed review of a worthy book from a young person:
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a moving novel which tells the story of Bruno and his family having to leave their home in Berlin and move to a desolate house in the country because of his father's high ranking job as a commandant of the concentration camp. While Bruno is there, he goes for an adventure and finds his new best friend Shmuel who lives on the other side of the fence. Although this book is not a typical children's book, the author writes it from the perspective of a child. He does this by writing as if he was an unnamed child watching what was going on. The two boys, who are the main characters, contrast not only in their circumstances but in their attitudes as well. Some of the other characters include Bruno's mother, who really doesn't want to be there; Bruno's sister, Grettel, who develops a crush on one of the soldiers from the camp; Pavel, who was taken from the camp to work in the commandant's house because he was seen as a threat to the soldiers' authority; and Nathalie, Bruno's grandmother, who was a loving grandmother but an unsupportive mother. Shmuel is on a mission to find his father; he is joined by Bruno who loves an adventure. The significance of the striped pyjamas is revealed in the final plot twist. The reason I enjoyed this book is because it is different to any other genre of book I have read before. I have learned a lot about the concentration camps and what happened there through reading this book. I think this book will leave a lasting impression on me.
William McIntyre (Sandstone Press: £8.99; e-book £3.79)
Having read and reviewed some of Willie McIntyre’s work, I was thoroughly confused to receive this one last week. It was first produced in 2014 and featured our hero Robbie Munro’s quest to obtain custody of daughter Tina. On the basis that this feisty young lady has been a well established figure in the last two books which I have read, why is this coming to light only now? The answer seems to be the case that many of Mr McIntyre’s works were originally self published. This one, it seems is only just seeing the light of published day. A case of better late…
For those not fortunate enough to have read any of the appropriately entitled Best Defence series, you have several treats in store. Robbie Munro is a hard-pressed criminal defence lawyer, regularly ground down (but never defeated) by life’s trials, which include unreasonable police officers, obstinate fiscals, and sheriffs whose notion of a reasonable doubt has long since vanished into the ether. For once we lawyers don’t have to shout at an author for making a hash of the technical points: no surprise – Mr McIntyre is one of our own, an experienced practitioner who knows his stuff. The cast of regular characters has been expertly drawn. Robbie’s reflections on life at the criminal bar are wry or trenchant, or both. His politically incorrect father, ex-cop Alex, allows the expression of views with which many of us may secretly agree, but no longer dare. And his brother, former Rangers star Malky, is a conduit for some good football based crack. When the latter is trying to feed carrots to Robbie’s daughter Tina, she refuses because they’re orange and horrible. Funny, says Robbie, that’s what they used to say about you when you played at Ibrox.
The plot, as ever, is even more complicated than Robbie’s tumultuous life. And, as ever, the book is immensely enjoyable. I defy you finish it without a smile on your face.
Tim Shipman (William Collins: £25; e-book £9.99)
Following on his brilliantly observed book on the referendum on the UK's continued membership of the European Union, Shipman follows up with this engrossing book on the year that followed, including the general election of 2017. It is clear Shipman ensures he has checked and cross referred his sources and in consequence writes with authority.
There is much here! Broad observations can be made, such as the disarray of the Tory central office on the general election being called and the utter disarray of both the Labour Leader's office (OTTO) and Labour Party HQ, or the role of “the Chiefs” in Downing Street (Hill and Timothy) and their approach jointly and severally to ministers, the press and Mrs May. There is, as one would expect, depth of detail and comment. Sir Ivan Rogers is bleakly portrayed as speaking too bluntly and clearly to ministers, in particular the PM, on the options for the UK's future relationship with the EU. Civil servants watch their ministers, in the case of those in the Department for Exiting the EU, with incredulity. There is the turf war with the Treasury; the decision to withdraw from the Single Market and Customs Union. The seeds of all that is now being played out as the next round of negotiations begin can be seen here, in particular the dichotomist state and views of the governing party.