Sunday, April 19, 2009


This month’s featured author is British novelist Kate Atkinson. She won the Whitbread Prize for her very first novel “Behind the scenes at the Museum” (Doubleday: Paperback: 10.50) which I absolutely loved. Set in York, it tells the story of a slightly mad and mixed up family, from the viewpoint of one of the young children. Atkinson writes with great humour, but there is inevitably often sadness and quite a bit of darkness under this veneer.

I missed her next two books “Human Croquet” and “Totally Weird”, but I was reliably informed that they did not live up to the original promise of her excellent first book. Atkinson has definitely come back to form however in her last three offerings, which form a trilogy and would be perfect for taking on a break, or if you just felt like getting your teeth into an interesting character. Jackson Brodie, sometime policeman, now private eye is the hero of the first book in the series “Case Histories”, (Doubleday:Paperback: 12.50) in which a kaleidoscope of different characters and crimes come together and provide a fast paced plot and a gripping mystery. The story is set in Cambridge, which Atkinson depicts in a similar way to York, with accuracy and atmosphere.

The second book to feature the hapless erstwhile policeman was my favourite in the trio- “One good turn”, ( Doubleday: Paperback: 12.00) this time featuring Edinburgh as a character in its own right. Set in the midst of the Edinburgh festival the book left me breathless with its clever plot twists and intricacies. Yet Atkinson is not just a stylistically clever writer, her novels have real substance and depth- and she writes from the heart. Again underneath the funny, frivolous festival lurks a darker Edinburgh, populated by corrupt businessmen and their henchmen, together with a host of enigmatic Russian gangsters. It is a really excellent read.

The last book (so far) in the story of Jackson Brodie is “When will there be good News?”( Doubleday: Paperback: 12.50) I did enjoy this novel, as it had rather deeper characterisations and fewer in the cast than the preceding book, but I was not as gripped as I had been with the other stories. Perhaps it was simply that I often find reading more than one book by a particular author can become formulaic, and I found myself seeing too many repetitions and recurring themes, as I got further into this one. Undoubtedly this writer is a superb storyteller, but ultimately her preoccupation with loss and death started to wear on me- perhaps its also because I am not generally a fan of crime fiction- to anyone who is, this trilogy would probably really appeal.

So, Kate Atkinson is highly recommended and for me her outstanding contribution will always be the wry, quirky and heartbreakingly sad “Behind the scenes at the Museum” – if you haven’t come across this do give it a try….


on passing by- again

With all the talk about the Government finally getting off their posteriors and actually grasping the nettle, finally showing some sort of leadership, finally taking on vested interests and putting the national good to the fore, could I make one small suggestion which might enable a better outcome?
Get rid of the Tanaiste, Mary Coughlan. Her recent statement that the public finances were in order shows just how far out of touch she is with reality. The Tanaiste occupies second place in Government and yet appears less knowledgeable than the proverbial dogs on the street. She is continually shown up in the Dail as someone who neither does her homework nor understands her brief. Recently accused by Joan Burton of not being au fait with latest tax figures she gave a typical reply, “ the deputy should watch it”. This is not good enough for any T.D., never mind a Tanaiste and Minister.
In a recent, totally lacklustre, speech at the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis she appeared to be reading the words without any conviction. Her frequent references to reports she had commissioned, or was about to commission, did absolutely nothing to inspire confidence either in her or her Governments ability to start solving problems. Have we not spent enough on reports over the last few years, all of which seemed to be a way for a Minister to pass the buck if anything went wrong. At one point in her speech she said that she was a firm believer that public bodies must quickly respond to the changing and diverse needs of individuals, families and communities. How?. By commissioning reports?. She would have used her time more profitably asking the Minister for Social Welfare why some people who have lost their jobs are waiting up to ten weeks for unemployment and welfare benefits. She could also ask Martin Cullen, Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism why he sees nothing wrong with spending tens of thousands of taxpayers money being helicoptered all over the country, leaving his hundred grand Mercedes lying idle. Then again I have long lost the small amount of confidence I had in Minister Cullen. In the midst of possibly the worst global recession in living memory the following is an excerpt from the Ministers own website, today, March the 13th.
“Thanks to the hard and productive work of the Irish people, responding to the policies of this Government, our economy is now one of the strongest in the world. Fianna Fáil is committed to protecting this economic success and using it to build an even stronger Ireland in order to create an improved quality of life for everyone. In the modern very competitive global economy, Ireland must keep driving forward. Fianna Fáil, led by An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen TD, believes in representing the whole community and working for the benefit of everyone in our society.”
This self serving drivel, after months of banking turmoil, months of rising unemployment, months of scandalous revelations, shows the kind of attention the Minister gives to his brief.
While Taoiseach Cowen gets daily closer in the Dail to giving a slap to someone on the Opposition benches his Minister for Finance finally seems to have lost the rabbit in the headlights look. He may finally have decided to look at the figures without the unions on his shoulder. For far too long these unappointed “advisors “have had too much input into Government matters. Much of this was because Bertie Ahern tried to avoid conflict by giving in to their demands, which over the years became more audacious and costly. This was deemed politically expedient but this same expediency is one of the reasons we are now in such dire straits.
Mr. Lenihan is now facing into possibly the most important budget in recent times. For all our sakes he has to avoid the fiasco of last October. There is an acceptance among most people that strong measures are needed. This acceptance is allied to an extreme annoyance at the way the money from the good times was squandered, wasted on pet projects with no oversight. There is an annoyance that no one ever seems to be responsible when things go wrong. There is a seething undercurrent of anger that the people perceived to have gotten us into this mess are being let off scot free, usually with large golden handshakes and pensions so large that they are beyond the comprehension of the ordinary working man. If Mr. Lenihan is to receive strong backing the budget must be seen to be fair. It must target specifics instead of the previous blunderbuss approach. Yet it must also be a budget which does not drag us further into the financial mire. Consumer confidence is one of the things which will help us improve. This confidence is currently at a very low ebb, so the budget should not lower it any further. People accept the need for tax increases but the increases must not be seen just as revenue raising, but must be looked at for all their effects.
Massive increases in fuel duty will certainly raise money but may also make it uneconomical for people to drive to jobs where they have already taken wage cuts. Result? More people drawing benefits. Increases in alcohol duties will initially bring rewards but could end up closing licensed premises. Result? Exactly.
There is some talk of putting two euro on cigarettes. As a smoker I obviously would not be mad about that but as a smoker I would be more than likely to pay the extra. The problem is for people who cannot afford the increase, and who would probably buy on the black market, thus effectively depriving the Government of revenue.
Myriad other schemes have been mentioned but some have been derided because they will only save a couple of million but so what. If we have lots of little ideas the money will soon add up. And that is the logic behind the budget, isn’t it?
Just before I go I would like to offer my condolences to the families of the two soldiers and the policeman so callously murdered in Northern Ireland. Thankfully the reaction from all sections of the community has been one of horror and revulsion. We spent long enough trying to get rid of these psychopaths and no one with any sense of decency wants to see their return.

All for now. Mike Edmonds. March 09.

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