January 2019 books

This is the latest post in a series I started in late 2019, anticipating the twentieth anniversary of my bookblogging which will fall in 2023. Every six-ish days, I’ve been revisiting a month from my recent past, noting work and family developments as well as the books I read in that month. I’ve found it a pleasantly cathartic process, especially in recent circumstances. If you want to look back at previous entries, they are all tagged under bookblog nostalgia.

I started the year by taking B for a walk to a castle near where she lives.

We went to Mechelen to see the mysterious Enclosed Gardens, which I must write up some time.

I also went to an exhibition about the legacy of the Dukes of Arenberg at the M Museum in Leuven, in the course of which I bumped into the actual Duke.

“Entschuldigen Sie mir, bitte, sind Sie der Herzog?”
“Darfen wir bitte ein Selfie machen?”
“Ja, natürlich.”

I had two working visits to London, and in the course of the second one I introduced my uncle to chopsticks.

A couple of days earlier, Scotland House hosted a Burns Night in the shadow of Brexit, with some emotional performances.

Auld Lang Syne
The haggis

I read 17 books that month.

Non-fiction: 2
Blue Box Boy, by Matthew Waterhouse
Berlin Calling: A Story of Anarchy, Music, The Wall, and the Birth of the New Berlin, by Paul Hockenos

Fiction (non-sf): 3
Milkman, by Anna Burns
From Here To Eternity, by James Jones
The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga

sf (non-Who): 8
The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, 2010 Edition, ed. Rich Horton
Heartspell, by Blaine Anderson
Europe at Dawn, by Dave Hutchinson
“The Queen of Air and Darkness”, by Poul Anderson
Tales from Moominvalley. by Tove Jansson
The Only Harmless Great Thing, by Brooke Bolander
Avalanche Soldier, by Susan Matthews
Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi

Doctor Who, etc: 2
The Time Lord Letters, by Justin Richards
Secret Histories, ed. Mark Clapham

Comics: 2
Saga vol 9, by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Lambik by Marc Legendre

5,100 pages
7/17 by non-male writers (Burns, Anderson, Jansson, Bolander, Matthews, Adeyemi, Staples)
3/17 by PoC (Adiga, Adeyemi, Staples)

Hugely enjoyed my return to Tales from Moominvalley; you can get it here. Hugely enjoyed Paul Hockenos’ Berlin Calling; you can get it here. Hugely enjoyed vol 9 of Saga; you can get it here. Blaine Anderson’s Heartspell is rubbish; you can get it here.

Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo

Second section of third chapter:

    she’s wearing a light grey pencil skirt and jacket, powder-blue blouse, grey neck-tie, black patent leather court shoes, and her pride
     as she passes through the formidable doors into the wood-panelled entrance
     wide staircases sweep up either side of the lobby ascending to the upper floors
     long corridors extend in two directions either side of her
     she’s way too early, wanders through the empty school, explores its light-filled classrooms, imagines its essence pouring into her soul, yes, her very soul
     she isn’t going to be a good teacher but a great one
     one who’ll be remembered by generations of working-class children as the person who made them feel capable of achieving anything in life
     a local girl made good, come back to generously pass on

A lot of people may have said “Who?” on hearing that Bernardine Evaristo had won the Man Booker Prize this year, jointly with Margaret Attwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. I did not; some years ago I greatly enjoyed The Emperor’s Babe, a narrative poem about a Sudanese girl in third century London. Girl, Woman, Other is a slightly different kettle of fish, with a huge range of characters across contemporary London (with some flashbacks to earlier decades), almost all women, almost all black, all telling their stories from their own perspective, but often those stories intersect and overlap, and we see the same relationships from different angles. I was preparing myself to write here that it was a very engaging, challenging, fascinating read; and then a twist in the last chapter caught me completely by surprise (though it shouldn’t have) and left me sobbing on the train on the way home from work. This does not happen to me very often. A brilliant book. You can get it here.

This was the top book on my unread pile by a non-white author. Next on that list is The Widows of Malabar Hill, by Sujata Massey.

Two Books About Bloody Sunday, and the case of Soldier F

Second paragraph of third chapter of Setting the Truth Free: The Inside Story of the Bloody Sunday Campaign, by Julieann Campbell:

Coinciding with the twentieth anniversary was the launch of Eamonn McCann’s book, Bloody Sunday: What Happened in Derry, commissioned by the Sunday Initiative (BSI) and published by Brandon Books. Regarded as one of the seminal books on the issue, McCann’s book helped to renew interest in Bloody Sunday and contained a background analysis of the events leading up to the killings. Most remarkable was the series of interviews with relatives and friends, conducted by Maureen Shiels and Bridie Hannigan of the local Women’s Living History Circle. In these, family members talked candidly about the lives of the killed and wounded men and boys, painting a personal portrait of each and giving an identity to names.

Second paragraph of third chapter of Bloody Sunday: Truth, Lies and the Saville Enquiry, by Douglas Murray:

Hovering in that clear blue sky was an army helicopter. And in it was a young surveillance officer known to the Saville Inquiry as INQ 2030. From this vantage point he could see over the whole of the Bogside. Years later he recorded what events looked like from up there. ‘I can recall seeing lots and lots of people on the ground, perhaps as many as five or ten thousand. They appeared to be congregating in one particular spot. All of a sudden, there was a burst of activity. People began running in all directions and the crowd effectively scattered. I can think of no better way to describe it than the effect that dropping a stone on an ants’ nest would have. It was almost as if the people on the ground had disappeared although I could see them hiding behind walls and buildings.’

Two very different books about the same awful event, both of which are at least as much about the Saville Inquiry as they are about the events of 30 January 1972. I have actually read the complete Bloody Sunday report, and reviewed it at some length on this blog back in 2010 (Volume I, Volume II, Volume III, Volume IV, Volume V, Volume VI, Volume VII, Volume VIII, Volume IX and Volume X and conclusions). In the last couple of months it has been announced that just one of the soldiers who killed 14 innocent people will be prosecuted, and that prompted me to refresh my recollection and also to look into the perspectives of two rather different commentators.

Julieann Campbell never knew her uncle, Jackie Duddy, who was killed at the age of 17 on Bloody Sunday, the first person to be shot dead by the Paras. (Specifically, by Private R.) She was born four years later, and grew up to be a journalist and the press officer for the Bloody Sunday families during the inquiry. She does not put herself into the narrative, however, telling instead the story of how the campaign developed from being a fringe concern and distraction from the overall political picture to a major political issue which Tony Blair felt compelled to yield on in order to facilitate the peace process. It was a terribly hard slog for the families to reach the point where they could be heard, and the early days of finding sympathetic lawyers who were prepared to go hunt for the archival evidence in order to write yet another paper which would be ritually ignored by the authorities were very tough. One person who comes in for considerable praise, to a certain extent against expectations, is John Bruton in his role as Taoiseach from 1995-97, elevating the issue to the point where his successor could not let it drop. It’s a one-sided narrative, but it’s the side whose story was suppressed by the authorities for many years, and it deserved to be told. The book won the Ewart-Biggs Prize, very deservedly.

Douglas Murray is a right-wing journalist, and his book partly reflects that perspective; it’s a series of snapshots of individuals who gave evidence (or should have) to the Saville enquiry. This is not always successful. The chapters on Edward Heath, Bernadette McAliskey and Martin McGuinness don’t really tell us much about them; each stonewalled the enquiry in different ways, and it’s quite difficult to tell a story about people not talking. The chapter on the British intelligence source codenamed “Infliction” gets way too mesmerised by the supposed glamour of intelligence-gathering. His chapter on the IRA is mainly gossip which confuses the Officials and Provisionals, though there is one amusing detail, that a leading Official IRA member, who Saville would have liked to hear from, was actually selling cigarette lighters at a stall outside the Guildhall until he died in 2003.

But there are three very good chapters here, and they are all about the soldiers who carried out the shooting on Bloody Sunday. One tantalising suggestion is that Soldier G, who is known to be now dead and was Soldier F’s partner in murder on the day, ended up as one of the mercenaries killed with Costas Georgiou, “Colonel Callan”, in Angola in 1976. Murray hints that Soldier G may actually have been Georgiou himself, though I think it’s a bit too good to be true.

There is a brutal chapter on Colonel Derek Wilford, whose blind defence of his men in the teeth of the evidence is remarkable. Some extracts are given from Wilford’s ill-advised media interviews, including this jewel of an exchange with Jim Naughtie on the Today Programme (back in 1999 when it was still worth listening to):

DW: I have to ask: what about Bloody Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and every day of the week? What about Bloody Omagh, what about Bloody Warrenpoint, Enniskillen, Hyde Park, Bloody Aldershot and Brighton? Bloody everything the IRA ever touch?
JN: Colonel Wilford, I think you would find it hard to argue that the IRA had had a good press in Britain.

[Michael McKinney, whose brother was killed on Bloody Sunday, is brought into the conversation]

DW: He may represent his dead brother and a very, very tragic situation it is, but I do not accept that he merely represents him. He represents the Republican organisation and we are naive to the point of idiocy to believe otherwise.
JN: Well, can I, Colonel Wilford, I must interrupt you there because Mr McKinney, as you know, is sitting across from me…
DW: No, I didn’t know he was sitting across from you.
JN: Well, he is, I did say he was in the studio. He was shaking his head rather vigorously and I must ask him just on this question. Colonel Wilford has said that you represent a particular strain of Republicanism. Now I just want to put that to you because you’re still here.
MM: Well, that’s totally untrue. I’ve been involved in the Bloody Sunday issue, the Bloody Sunday campaign these past seven years. I’m one of the founder members of that, myself and a number of other relatives are involved in that and we have no links with any Republican organisation at all.
JN: Right. Colonel Wilford, I mean, that’s been said, do you accept it?
DW: No, of course I don’t accept it.
JN: Why not?
DW: Well, because they will all say that, won’t they.

But Murray’s book begins and ends with two brutal chapters on Soldier F, who together with the late Soldier G killed between five and seven of those who died on Bloody Sunday. The first chapter graphically describes F’s murder of Bernard McGuigan, the last person to be killed on Bloody Sunday, and reflects on how memories of such a horrific event can cheat (there is a very gruesome detail involving a detached body part which I won’t describe further). In the second last chapter, Murray looks at how Soldier F’s story that he had fired only at rioters who were attacking him fell apart within hours of Bloody Sunday, and recounts how the inquiry got through his defences and forced him to admit at least some responsibility. Murray doesn’t quote it, but this is the crucial dialogue:

Q. Before your evidence concludes, I think I ought to summarise for you the accusations and allegations that have been raised and which the Tribunal will have to consider and determine.
The allegations are, firstly, that you killed up to four people, possibly even more. Firstly Michael Kelly, and we know, do we not, that you killed him because of the forensic evidence that a bullet from your gun was found in his body?
A. That is correct.
Q. Secondly, you have accepted, in answering questions from Mr Mansfield behind me, that you shot Barry McGuigan, whose photograph, in a pool of blood, you have seen; do you remember that?
A. Yes.
Q. Do you also accept that you shot Patrick Doherty on whose behalf you were asked questions this afternoon by Ms McDermott?
A. Yes.
Q. As I have put to you, there is evidence that might lead to the conclusion that you shot William McKinney in Glenfada Park; do you follow?
A. Yes.
Q. What is alleged in relation to each of those four people is that you shot them without justification, that is to say, that you murdered them; do you follow?
A. I follow, it is not correct, but I follow, yes.
Q. And you say that it is not correct, because?
A. Because, as I refer to my statements, the people I shot were either petrol bombers or a person who had a weapon.
Q. I also put to you that you may have wounded Joe Mahon, the boy whose body is on the ground behind William McKinney’s in Glenfada Park. The suggestion is also that you may have wounded the two others who were wounded below the Rossville Flats; do you follow?
A. Yes.
Q. Is there anything that you can say about that or would wish to say about that?
A. No.

Soldier F, as we know, is to now be prosecuted for the murders of James Wray and William McKinney, and for the attempted murders of Joseph Friel, Michael Quinn, Joe Mahon and Patrick O’Donnell, all of which took place in Glenfada Park North. The Public Prosecution Service issued an unusually detailed statement about why they have in the end chosen to initiate proceedings against only one of the Bloody Sunday soldiers, and why for only a few of the deaths and injuries that he may have caused. It is worth a read. My own concern is that the PPS have chosen not to prosecute Soldier F for the deaths and injuries that Saville thinks he definitely caused (Michael Kelly, Bernard McGuigan and Patrick Doherty, all killed; Patrick Campbell and Daniel McGowan, both injured), and instead have chosen to prosecute him for deaths and injuries for which Saville found much weaker evidence. Of course Bloody Sunday has now been reinvestigated from first principles by the PSNI, with no reference to Saville and its details. Perhaps they found better evidence for the Glenfada Park North shooting than Saville was able to.

Anyway, both books are well worth reading (the good bits of Murray definitely outweigh the less good bits). You can get them here and here.